The one person in China who can’t talk about soccer during the World Cup

Society & Culture

The World Cup is flickering across TV screens around the world, and users of Hupu, a Chinese sports forum, are having a good time debating and joking online. Except one person.

A screenshot that has been making rounds on Chinese social media apparently shows that Hupu has punished one user, let’s call him X, for making a joke with a 7-day timeout — suspending his posting rights for a crucial period of the World Cup.

The post in question was made on June 23 and reads: “Messi says he wants to be captain for three more terms.”

Messi has captained the Argentinian national team in two World Cups: 2014, and 2018. This year, his team narrowly avoided being eliminated from the final 16. Given that Messi just turned 31, this might be his last chance to win a World Cup.

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X’s remarks might seem innocuous, but for anyone who’s been following news from China, the joke is very likely a reference to Xi Jinping’s repeal of presidential term limits in February.  

While it’s still unclear whether the user made the joke intentionally or unwittingly, and we cannot verify the authenticity of the screenshot, the post was apparently found offensive by Hupu censors, who decided to mute the account for a week for “violating community regulations.” Which regulations? The administrative team explained that it contains “sensitive content regarding pornography, gambling, drug abuse, politics, regions, religion or rumors.”

The Chinese internet is a notoriously unwelcoming place for sensitive news, parodies, and even the cartoon character Winnie the Pooh. It is a world of arbitrary rules that make people hyper-conscious about what to post online. In the absence of definite regulations, Chinese internet users often test the boundaries by making mistakes. This, it seems, is just another case in point.