China is now refusing to show matches of the English Premier League, including the Manchester derby this weekend.
Premier League plans this weekend that all captains will wear armbands in Ukrainian colors and “Football Stands Together” banners on Ukrainian flag backgrounds on screens.
Many sports leagues and governing states have weighed in on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, from canceling events and broadcasting deals with Russia to banning Russian teams from competitions to putting out statements and planning demonstrations of support for Ukraine.
The Premier League has said it “wholeheartedly rejects Russia’s actions” and is set to show solidarity with Ukraine.
Interestingly, an interesting predecessor to EA’s FIFA 22 and NHL 22 removing Russian teams this week in global.
Chinese rights holders of the Premier League announced that they will not broadcast English top-flight matches this weekend because of the league’s planned shows of support for Ukraine, including the highly anticipated match between Manchester United vs. Manchester City.
“China is a close political ally of Russia”, Western newspapers commented. But China abstained from voting in the special session of the United Nations General Assembly on March 1 about Ukraine.
This isn’t the first time Chinese authorities have refused to show Premier League matches. China Central Television – CCTV and Chinese streaming broadcaster PPTV both refused to show a 2019 Arsenal-Manchester City match following Arsenal player Mesut Özil’s statement of support for Muslims in China, which came in a leaked document describing China’s forced internment of one million Uyghur Muslim citizens in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
CCTV continued to not show Arsenal matches for a while after that, and while PPTV did, the commentators refused to mention Özil’s name during one broadcast.
The Chinese release of Konami’s eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 also removed Özil from the game.
In other sports, CCTV pulled NBA games for a year following the controversy around Daryl Morey’s 2019 tweet in support of protesters in Hong Kong.
CCTV also stopped broadcasting basketball team Boston Celtics last fall after Enes Kanter (now Enes Kanter Freedom) advocated for Tibetan independence.
So this move against the Premier League is not unpredictable.
China has close links to Russia, Chinese officials asked Russia to postpone the Ukraine invasion until the end of the Beijing Olympics. But it’s still not a conflict directly involving China.
The question is if China will do the same around the many other leagues (including MLS) that have expressed support for Ukraine.