What does the China, the World Cup and George Orwell have in common? Quite a lot, actually.

If you’re China, how do you avoid drawing attention to the billions of people outside your country who are no longer wearing COVID masks? Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, summed it up best:

Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.

With FIFA overseeing the television broadcast of every single game in a World Cup, everyone sees the same footage. Except, not in China. Chinese television producers are replacing live footage of fans in World Cup stadiums with closeups of players and coaches on the field.

Why? China doesn’t want its population realizing that the vast majority of the world have progressed past the COVID-19 pandemic. Many local regions in the People’s Republic of China are still in lockdown. Chinese residents have been forced to take daily COVID tests, and people have had enough. Large street protests have erupted, and protestors are calling for politicians to step down.

China President Xi Jinping’s strict Covid Zero policy has been a failure with a record number of cases nationwide as the virus surges.

World Cup opens a window into the world for China

China is a soccer-mad nation. For instance, 623 million people in China watched games from the 2014 World Cup. Despite not qualifying for World Cup tournaments in 2014 and 2018, there is significant interest in watching the 2022 World Cup.

All of the games are televised. In doing so, that causes an issue for Chinese politicians.

Viewers in China are able to see hundreds of thousands of people sitting close together in stadiums, not wearing masks.

“There are no separate seats so people can maintain social distance, and there is nobody dressed in white and blue [medical] garb on the sidelines,” a Chinese citizen told BBC. “On one side of the world, there is the carnival that is the World Cup, on the other are rules not to visit public places for five days.”

Chinese state media employing Orwellian tactics

Knowing the the crowd shots earlier in the World Cup caused some consternation for Chinese politicians, Chinese state media have begun censoring the coverage.

Here’s a clip that shows a side-by-side example of game coverage (top) and what the viewers in China saw (bottom):

The last thing the Chinese government needs right now are citizens seeing average people enjoying life and not wearing masks. It undermines the authority of the Chinese government, especially leader Xi.

Censorship in the West

Media censorship isn’t just happening in China.

Anyone who watched the first 30 minutes of Germany against Japan last week would have noticed something unusual. Despite having more than a dozen touches of the ball, the FIFA world-feed prevented viewers from seeing close-ups of German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

Why? Presumably FIFA didn’t want to draw attention to Neuer, who was going to wear a OneLove armband.

Closer to home, FOX Sports have censored their own World Cup coverage from reporting on off-the-field controversies that are happening in Qatar. The fact that Qatar is a multi-million dollar sponsor of FOX’s coverage shows that capitalism, as well as communism, has a way of censoring programming too.

Final thoughts

George Orwell summed it up best in his classic 1984 book:

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the protests happening across China this weekend were influenced by what Chinese World Cup viewers saw earlier in this tournament?

We shall see in the coming days.

Photo credit: IMAGO / NurPhoto

Guide to World Cup 2022

Here are some resources to help you get the most out of the biggest event in soccer!
TV Schedule: All the info on where and when to watch every game
The Groups: We breakdown each group and all the teams
The Kits: Check out what every team will be wearing on the field this fall
Predictor: Play out every scenario with our World Cup Predictor
World Cup Bracket: Map out the entire tournament, from the groups to the final