What the ruck? Huawei rugby ad catches flak in New Zealand

The China Sports Column is a SupChina weekly feature in which China Sports Insider Mark Dreyer looks at the week that was in the China sports world.

Poor old Huawei.

The beleaguered Chinese telecoms giant might be getting hammered on all sides these days, but it certainly knows how to pick a marketing agency Down Under.

Following the New Zealand government’s decision to block Huawei from its 5G network, the company released billboard-sized ads — spotted in multiple locations in New Zealand — comparing the ban on Huawei to New Zealand minus its most famous association, rugby.

Given the public sentiment around the world, it may be too little, too late to make a difference to the Kiwi government, but you have to give them points for trying.

It also fits with a couple of other Huawei sports trends.

For a company that is well known for its inability to localize its management even as it expands around the world, the rugby ad reflects a remarkable amount of latitude shown to whomever devised it. It’s almost inconceivable that HQ back in China was calling the shots on this one, despite appearing to do so on almost everything else.

And it’s reminiscent of previous videos done by the Wellington Phoenix soccer team and the AFL’s Gold Coast Suns, each of which comedically ridiculed the firm’s own name as player after player struggled to pronounce it. I could be wrong, but I think it’s safe to say head office didn’t sign off on that one either.

Secondly, the firm has long used sports as a way to make some PR inroads into Western countries. At a quick glance, it’s sponsored cricket in India, triathlon in London, soccer teams all over Europe, and even tried a sneaky deal with the NFL’s Washington Redskins (which was quickly nixed).

But, by and large, the campaign worked: teams were happy to receive the money and/or the infrastructure support, such as free WiFi in their stadium, and fans either didn’t know or didn’t care about the “other” stuff.

These days, though, the ad campaign in New Zealand has more of a feel of desperation. Still, full marks for trying.

Just like your embarrassing uncle, International Ski Federation (FIS) president Gian-Franco Kasper is one of those with the knack for saying the wrong thing.

Like that time when he compared calls for Russia to be banned from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to the Holocaust.

Or that time when he said he didn’t think ski jumping was “appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view” (whatever that means).

And he’s been at it again with another barrage of bullshit — some of which may have raised some eyebrows in Beijing.

Reminiscent of some recent presidential tweets, Kasper has also been poking fun at “so-called climate change” during an interview with Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger:

“We have snow, sometimes very much.” He pointed to frigid temperatures at last year’s Pyeongchang Olympics. “To anyone shuddering toward me, I say: Welcome to global warming,” Kasper told the newspaper.

In the same interview, he praised the fact that “dictators can organize (big) events…without asking the people’s permission,” adding that “from the business side, I say: I just want to go to dictatorships, I do not want to argue with environmentalists.”

Widely perceived as a reference to the upcoming 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, Kasper was soon backpedaling, though as was the case with air pollution in the run-up to 2008, expect stories about water shortages due to efforts to make artificial snow to dominate in the run-up to 2022.


The Lunar New Year holiday has come and gone since the last China Sports Column, and teams and leagues around the world have been taking the opportunity to capitalize (they hope) by addressing their Chinese-speaking audiences.

Kunlun Red Star’s ethnically Chinese players were paraded in front of the camera to recite some greetings, though one particular player, Zach Yuen — who featured at last year’s SupChina-sponsored Bookworm Literary Festival panel discussion — stands out for his ability to actually speak Chinese.

Arsenal went for this cringeworthy, yet also creditable, version:

Meanwhile, the Women’s Tennis Association — with 11 Chinese players in the world’s top 200 — couldn’t get a single one to feature in this half-hearted effort:

The NBA has long been the master at this, with 15 teams marking the holiday at their arenas in some way. But the NFL gave it a good shot this year, with the Super Bowl coinciding with the eve of Chinese New Year. From greetings aired on the big screen prior to the game to the Chinese lanterns floating away during Maroon 5’s halftime performance of “She Will be Loved,” the elements played well on Chinese social media.

There’s also a lot of good stuff about the NFL’s growth in China in this Forbes piece, while this article from Radii about the 1986 Super Bowl is worth a look.


Also this week:

The China Sports Column runs every Friday on SupChina. Follow Mark Dreyer @DreyerChina.