China Censors Paralympics Opening Ceremony, Premier League Over Ukraine | #socialmedia


BEIJING—China made its position on Ukraine clear on Friday with two acts of sports censorship that aimed to block coverage of anti-war sentiment in a country that has sought to maintain close ties with Russia as it sends tanks and missiles into its neighbor.  

China’s state-run broadcaster didn’t translate and then silenced remarks by International Paralympic Committee president

Andrew Parsons,

as he derided Russia’s invasion of Ukraine during the Winter Paralympic opening ceremony in Beijing on Friday.

Separately, the English Premier League confirmed that its matches would be blacked out in China this weekend as clubs and players prepare large-scale displays of support for Ukraine before and during the 10 games.

“Tonight I want—I must—begin with a message of peace,” Parsons, a Brazilian who has led the organization since 2017, said in his English-language opening remarks on Friday, addressing Chinese leader

Xi Jinping

and other guests. “I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now. The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate!”

The interpreter for state broadcaster China Central Television, however, didn’t translate that portion of Parsons’ remarks, whose message was unmistakable even without mentioning Russia, Ukraine or Russian President

Vladimir Putin

by name.

CCTV then appeared to muffle Parsons’ audio as he continued, referencing Putin’s violation of the United Nations-endorsed Olympic Truce that covers the duration of both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Olympic Truce, Parsons said, “is the U.N. resolution adopted by consensus by 193 member states at the 76th U.N. General Assembly. It must be respected and observed, not violated,” Parsons said to virtual silence in the Beijing National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, according to the official Paralympic broadcast.

International Olympic Committee President

Thomas Bach

this week condemned Putin for his repeated breaches of the Olympic Truce, dating back to Russia’s invasion of Georgia during the 2008 Summer Games and the annexation of Crimea before the end of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The IOC also stripped Putin of an award it had granted him in 2001.

“The IOC [executive board] welcomes and appreciates the many calls for peace by athletes, sports officials and members of the world-wide Olympic Community,” the organization said.

On China’s

Twitter

-like social media platform Weibo, posts discussing Parsons’s opening speech and CCTV’s interpretation of his remarks vanished almost as quickly as they were posted. After the live broadcast concluded, CCTV appeared to have removed replays of the speech from its website and mobile app.

In his speech, Parsons also referred to Xi, in an apparent flub, as “the president of the Republic of China.” The Republic of China is the formal name of the government in Taiwan, which Xi, the leader of the People’s Republic of China, has vowed to absorb, using force if necessary. The CCTV interpreter didn’t include Xi’s title in his translation.

Spokespeople for CCTV and the IPC didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Xi, who moments later declared the Paralympic Games officially open, stood side by side with Putin inside the Bird’s Nest one month earlier, at the Olympic opening ceremony. Hours before the Feb. 4 Olympic opening ceremony, Xi and Putin met for a summit meeting, issuing an extraordinary statement declaring that their friendship “has no limits. There are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation.”

The IPC said on Thursday that Russian and Belarusian athletes wouldn’t be permitted to compete during the Paralympics, reversing an earlier decision in the face of an uproar from other countries’ athletes. Belarus, which is closely aligned with Russia, has become a main staging ground for Russia’s offensive against Ukraine.

Flag bearer Maksym Yarovyi of Team Ukraine leads the team out during the Winter Paralympic opening ceremony in Beijing.



Photo:

Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

The Premier League, meanwhile, announced on Wednesday that all 20 club captains would wear armbands in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag and stadiums would play a message reading “Football Stands Together” on stadium video boards before and during the matches.

“This message of solidarity will also be visible to fans around the world across Premier League digital channels,” the league said. “Logos and profiles on those platforms will change to represent the colors of the Ukrainian flag, which will also be displayed across match broadcasts both in the U.K. and overseas.”

English soccer had previously run afoul of Chinese censors in 2019, after Arsenal star Mesut Özil spoke out against China’s treatment of ethnic-minority Muslims in Xinjiang region. Arsenal games went off the air in China, historically one of the largest buyers of foreign broadcast rights to the Premier League, before quietly returning around two weeks later with announcers performing verbal gymnastics to avoid saying Özil’s name. 

But on that occasion, the blackout only concerned one team. This weekend, the entire league will go missing.

“The Premier League and our clubs wholeheartedly reject Russia’s actions,” the league said. “We call for peace and our thoughts are with all those who have been impacted.”

Write to Jonathan Cheng at Jonathan.Cheng@wsj.com and Joshua Robinson at Joshua.Robinson@wsj.com

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