German Bundesliga club FC Cologne scraps China academy deal as board member hits out at ‘brutal dictatorship’

German soccer club FC Cologne has pulled out of a 1.8-million (US$2 million) deal to run a football academy in northeast China, as a member of the club council said they should not support “such a totalitarian and brutal dictatorship”.

Cologne’s president, Werner Wolf, told the local paper Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger on Wednesday that the Bundesliga club had decided not to proceed with the project.

Stefan Müller-Römer, a member of the club council, told the paper: “I understand that the Federal Republic of Germany cannot get past the economic power of China completely and so there is an exchange. But we don’t need China in sports.”

He also said that in China human rights were being massively disregarded and a surveillance state was being built. “There are values higher than money,” he said.

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On Thursday morning, the club’s official Weibo account issued a statement, in which Wolf said the decision had been made for sporting and financial reasons.

It insisted that Müller-Römer “did not consult with the club before speaking, it’s strictly his own viewpoint and does not represent the official attitude of the club”.

The club did not publish the statement on its official Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Some Twitter users criticised Wolf for “condemning his own people and kowtowing to China”.

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil hit out at Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang last week. Photo: EPA-EFF
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil hit out at Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang last week. Photo: EPA-EFF

But Chinese fans also attacked the club, with one Weibo user asking: “If a board member cannot represent the club, who can?”

Others urged the club to get out of Chinese market.

The initial plan for the cooperation between the club and Shenyang Sports School was part of an agreement between the German and Chinese governments, lasting from 2016 to 2021, which included “training of players, coaches and referees, as well as through an exchange of knowledge”, the German newspaper said.

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Last week, Arsenal’s German midfielder Mesut Ozil, whose family origins are in Turkey, became the latest international celebrity caught in a political storm in China after he strongly criticised Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang.

Arsenal soon tried to distance itself from the player, saying the club was always “apolitical as an organisation”.

China has a grand plan to produce one of the world's strongest teams by 2050, with interim targets of becoming one of Asia’s best teams by 2030 and boasting some 50 million soccer players by 2020, according to an official document in 2016.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has been passionate about soccer since he was a child, has repeatedly called for improved soccer education among youngsters to raise playing standards.

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