China pulls Premier League coverage as UK tensions mount

China’s state television broadcaster, CCTV, demoted the English Premier League (EPL) match between Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC from its main sports channel CCTV-5 to CCTV-5+, a channel regarded as the broadcaster’s secondary sports offering.

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The move to air the match on a channel known for luring fewer viewers has been deemed a sign that the world of professional soccer is being ensnared in diplomatic tensions between Beijing and London.

With this weekend’s season-ending EPL matches stripped from Chinese television schedules, it’s not yet clear if CCTV-5 will broadcast them. If tensions continue to mount, it’s unlikely China will allow any EPL football to feature until next year even though the new season is expected to start in September, although no date has yet been set.

The shift comes amid deteriorating ties between the two countries in recent weeks, with the UK Government banning telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co., and foreign ministry deputy director Wang Wenbin reportedly saying London should halt its “wrong words and actions”.

“Given what we are beginning to see here and the issues with Huawei, the unfortunate reality is that football can get caught in the crossfire,” Simon Chadwick, director of Eurasian Sport at the Centre for the Eurasian Sport Industry, told Bloomberg Radio.

China has since accused the UK of being a tool of the Trump Administration, which could have a devastating impact on football should a resolution not be found. Some EPL clubs are struggling due to COVID-19 fallout, and flagging merchandise sales and sponsorships under threat due to the escalating situation with Beijing would make matters worse.

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