Cologne suspends deal to build academy in China

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — German soccer club Cologne has suspended a deal to build an academy in China, but says it’s not cutting all ties with the country.

The head of the club’s members’ council, Stefan Müller-Römer, welcomed the decision, telling local newspaper the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger that Cologne should not cooperate with a country he said was building a “total surveillance state.”

However, the club’s management said Wednesday that sporting reasons, not politics, were behind its decision. Cologne was promoted to the Bundesliga last season but is struggling to avoid relegation this campaign.

“We had the opportunity to build an academy in Shenyang, which we postponed,” club spokesman Tobias Kaufmann said in emailed comments. However, he said the club would consider working with China on matters like sponsorships in the future.

“We did not suspend every potential cooperation with China. But we have decided not to continue this concrete project, due to the current sporting situation,” he wrote.

Cologne has previously sought to build links with Chinese teams, including sending academy coaches to run workshops for their Chinese counterparts in 2016.

Cologne’s decision to pull out comes at a time when Western sports teams and businesses are increasingly confronted by tough choices related to China’s political situation.

Chinese television decided not to air an Arsenal game this weekend after its German midfielder Mesut Özil criticized China’s treatment of Uighurs Muslims last week.

Arsenal distanced itself from Özil’s comments. The club said the remarks were his personal opinion and that Arsenal does not involve itself in politics.

Some Chinese corporations suspended links with the NBA in October after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, angering fans and officials in China.

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