The last few days has seen Arsenal Football Club distracted by matters off the football field.
No, not the alleged tapping up of Mikel Arteta...lol! The Club has found itself having to make statements to try and contain the conflagration which might engulf the club with an inferno not of its own making. The topic being China. The Republic of China jealously protects its national interests in the world, whether it be about human rights, Climate change and Global warming or mass censorship of the media. Its stance often evokes strong emotions with many people. The Chinese economy is the second largest in the world and it is said that when China sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold. So it can obtain leverage by using economic measures. In my view this current Chinese leadership has become very sensitive about its national interests. This is why Arsenal Football Club now finds itself between a rock and a hard place about China. So I thought that I would add my own perspective and personal comment which do not portray the views of Online Gooner. (Ed’s note – our platform exists to relay opinions from across the spectrum of Arsenal fan opinion. The only policy is that we do not publish abusive content. Readers can make their own minds about the views on China)
In May 2009 as FTK or Fabregas the King writing then for Arsenal Insider I wrote the following
“It now seems that the battle for Arsenal between Russia and the United States will be overshadowed by the intervention of China. Aided and abetted by one Stephen Perry.
So a simple question that I throw out to Insiders? Who is Stephen Perry?
(I sourced the following from newspaper articles mainly the Daily Telegraph I seem to recall.)
Stephen Perry and his father before him has been involved in establishing trade links with China for several decades. Stephen Perry was the driving force in opening up trade with the mighty Chinese economy, for as a visionary he understood what advantages lay in gaining access to such a huge market. Stephen was Chairman of the 48 Group Club. This club was working to enable billions of pounds of investment opportunities in areas as diverse as Sport and commodities. Stephen’s father and his Chinese counterparts became known as Icebreakers for breaking down these vast glacial barriers to trade with the West.”
I went on...
“Stephen Perry, is managing director of an Anglo-Chinese trading group London Export Corporation. It is alleged that Mr Perry has been trying to buy shares in Arsenal as a means of maintaining stewardship of the club by many stakeholders. These attempts coming as the battle for Arsenal rages between the 28.3 percent US Denver sports enterprise Shareholder Mr Stan Kroenke and the 25 percent shareholder Alisher Usmanov, the Russian billionaire steel and gas magnate. The attempt allegedly at the invitation of the Carr family was to purchase 8 percent. However the deal fell through after Stan Kroenke secured the option to buy. Stephen Perry was said to believe by a close source that control of Arsenal Football Club by one shareholder was a bad model, and his preference was for four shareholders and a rights issue.”
In March 2017 Rocky the King wrote in an article for Online Gooner about the expanding Chinese Super league given support by the Leader of China, Xi Jinping
“China has a population of 1.3 billion and it's President Xi Jinping has announced his plan to make China the leading force in world football by 2050 and win a World Cup in 15 years. Massive investments have begun in the grassroot infrastructure with plans to lay one football pitch for every 10,000 citizens around the continent...
What about Arsenal's links with China? Arsenal first played a pre season friendly in Beijing in 1995. In 2003 the club launched its Shanghai supporters club in China. Arsenal followed this up by tours in 2011 and 2012 and has recently announced as part of the 2017 pre season tour, a match against Bayern Munich on July 19th in Shanghai and Chelsea on July 22nd in Beijing. Arsenal have introduced soccer schools with iRENA following a visit in 2015 by Charles Allen and Robert Pires, and the rising popularity of the club has seen it rise to third in social media rankings behind Manchester United and Barcelona. The club announced a content partnership with Total Soccer in 2016 and will provide exclusive player interviews and videos. It seems that Ivan Gazidis remains totally committed to increasing commercial revenues by this ever closer union with China, and with Brexit looming, this strategy could reap even more profits.”
Our Club’s profitability depends upon the expansion of the brand across the world. We need sound finances and profits to buy players and pay their very high wages. Arsenal Football Club must also act in the interests of Arsenal Fans and protect the club from financial ruin. Whether we like it or not we cannot have it both ways. We need investment, we need a multinational fan base, but morally at what cost? We respect our fellow Chinese Gooners and we must acknowledge that in supporting our great club, there is more that unites Chinese Gooners with London Gooners than that which divides us. I want to express our friendship with all Gooners the world over.
In June 2017 Arsenal Football Club produced the following article on its website
“Founded back in 2003, Arsenal Shanghai was the first Arsenal Supporters Club in China to be officially recognised by Arsenal FC. Since then, We have been endeavouring in providing extensive and comprehensive services for Chinese Gooners. We (known as ACN) uphold the belief of 'Gooner for Life' and our mission is to cultivate a proper spirit and culture amongst Chinese Gooners. We also have a London branch where we help our members travelling from China to watch the Arsenal in the UK with their tickets and travelling matters. Our expats in the UK go to every single game home and away to show our support for the Arsenal.”
In October 2019 The Guardian Newspaper wrote
“Human rights organisations have condemned Fifa’s decision to stage a revamped version of the Club World Cup in China. World football’s governing body has confirmed that an expanded version of its showpiece event, featuring 24 teams, will take place there in June and July 2021. The decision was made despite China’s suppression of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, and the internment of more than one million Uighur Muslims in the state of Xinjiang.”
Among many organisations Amnesty International was particularly vocal in its forthright condemnation. Eventually the facts will come out. The World will then have to make a choice.
In December 2019 Mesut Ozil, Muslim and Arsenal superstar tweeted about the alleged treatment of the Uighur Muslims.
Following this, Chinese broadcasters blocked coverage of the weekend game between Arsenal and Manchester City. Similar to a blackout imposed upon the season opening games of the NBA following a comment about the Hong Kong protests by its Commissioner Adam Silver. Mesut Ozil’s translated statement is widely available all over the internet, so I do not need to reproduce it here.
The Chinese response was swift and brutal. China sent out a chilling message that it was not amused. China worked from the standpoint of inflicting financial pain upon its critics knowing that this would be swift and effective. It was not wrong.
In December 2019 According again to the Guardian,
“Arsenal Football Club sought to limit any financial damage caused to its business in China, where it has numerous commercial interests including a chain of restaurants, by releasing a statement on Weibo a leading Chinese social media site (where it has 5 million followers) and other platforms, that the club does not associate itself with Ozil’s views. The Club stated that the content published by Ozil is the player’s personal opinion and Arsenal has always adhered to the principle of not involving itself in politics.”
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
There are now reports of Chinese Arsenal fans allegedly burning club shirts and protesting about the hurt done to the Chinese people. A chat room about the player is supposed to have been shut down. A Chinese spokesman has come out and roundly condemned the player for being influenced by fake news. The spokesman added that the player should come to China to see for himself how the rates of extremist violence in Xinjiang have fallen since Beijing implemented its programme of reforms.
Politics and Sport have parallels in that the support is often tribal and the passions can result in extreme violence and the very worst of human behaviours. I recall the demonstrations surrounding the Cricket tours to South Africa under the regime of Apartheid. I felt embarrassed about the clumsy Government attempts to prevent Athletes competing in the 1980 Russian Olympics. In short there have been many notable events in history which illustrate how deeply held passions can explode when politics and sport clash.
That is why I can understand the strength of feeling of the Chinese, when tourists are in China they must respect Chinese values and Chinese laws. In much the same way that we would not like others to tell us how to live our lives, we have to understand that our interpretation of religion and democracy cannot be grafted onto other nations be they Atheist, Muslim, Chinese or Buddhist. The diversity of the world’s nations is what makes it so interesting to travel to different countries. Yet Globalisation has made the world smaller especially with the removal of borders by the internet. I am also saddened and conflicted by the events in the former British overseas territory Hong Kong and hope that a peaceful resolution can be found. However I fail to see how Hong Kong’s attempts to secure universal suffrage can succeed whilst it remains part of mainland China. We cannot tell another sovereign nation how to govern its own internal affairs.
In much the same way, who are we to tell another country how it should deal with its perceived internal threats of terrorism? Surely this is the point. China has values, China has its national pride and beliefs. However by using its economic might to express its anger and dismay about criticism directed at itself, unwittingly it might just bring about the economic isolation of China. This would harm Chinese interests more than our own. China is a rich and mighty empire now, but it still depends upon global economic integration. The Chinese entrepreneurs depend upon the rest of the world to buy its manufacturing products. There are vital commodities needed by China for its expanding borders. What if the rest of the world decided that it would no longer trade with China? If mass unemployment came to China as a direct consequence of world retaliation, China would have to change its stance rapidly to prevent civil unrest. Thus economic order must be based upon mutual respect. We must respect China but equally China must respect the rest of the world. China may display arrogance now in its retaliatory behaviour, but in the future the tide may turn like a tsunami and bite back.
Mesut Ozil’s tweet was steeped in religious rhetoric and provocative statements which I find deeply worrying. I do not believe that our players should be allowed to tweet upon such controversial matters. If they were to put as much passion and energy into their games as opposed to their tweets then perhaps our club might be higher up the table. It is often said that there are three things that you should never talk about in the workplace, politics, religion and money. So what is freedom of speech? Do we have the right to offend others? In Britain we now have laws governing what can or cannot be said. Discrimination is judged by the standards perceived by the beholder. If we choose to enter into this political arena then they are risks. China has every right to retaliate if it feels that its interests are best served, in much the same way that we can choose to boycott all things Chinese if we object to their response.
We must tread carefully when it comes to insulting nations too. There are two sides to every story and we cannot in the West claim to hold the moral high ground. Equally as manufacturing providers China must acknowledge that it trades in the global economy with the consent of the West. If the western consumers exercise their freedom of choice not to trade with China then who would be the loser? Arsenal enforced a ban on national flags at the Emirates Stadium soon after it opened. I applauded these efforts to prevent sectarian violence erupting in a cauldron of already febrile emotions. I did not however applaud its whistle blower SMS policy for supposed anti-social behaviour. I felt that this policy was being enforced within the ground in a highly selective manner and in my view it was meant to suppress fair comment or vocal banter. Arsenal fans have the right to express their anger in much the same way as they do through boycotting the club, showing empty seats and not renewing season tickets.
In the end however money talks. Nations who need China’s wealth and patronage will ignore the alleged human rights violations. Hypocrisy is writ large in Global trading partnerships. However my warning to China is that History teaches us that Empires rise and fall, it would be a great mistake for Xi Jinping to interpret the West’s current willingness to tolerate the excesses of the Chinese state for weakness.
So what are your thoughts? Should the players talk with their skills on the field and leave these other controversial topics for others to manage? Do they have the right to use the social media platforms and as agents of their club make statements which may result in alienating a section of the Global Gooner fan base? Can we ever separate morals and politics from sport when we refer to campaigns about kicking out racism and homophobia?