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Huawei uses sports to combat politics

Global Times (2013-11-04 P23)
By Mark Dreyer
When Chinese telecoms firm Huawei signed a deal with the Wellington Phoenix soccer club in New Zealand earlier this year, the team released a video in which the players and coaches tried - and failed, to comic effect - to pronounce the name of their new sponsor. It was a clever piece of marketing.

For those not up to date with their American politics, Huawei has effectively been designated persona non grata in the US. The charge, in essence, is that Huawei's purported links to the Chinese government and military make it too much of a risk to allow it into US infrastructure.

But the rest of the world sees it differently and Europe in particular has been only too happy to welcome the company in various facets of public life. The push has been most noticeable in the sporting arena.

In the last few days, Huawei was announced as a major sponsor of Italian soccer club AC Milan, after inking multi-year deals with German team Borussia Dortmund and Spanish soccer's governing body ­earlier this year.

The latest deal was borne out of a partnership launched at the 2011 Italian Super Cup, which was played in Beijing, but Milan officials were perhaps oversold on the idea of what Huawei's sponsorship at home could mean for the club abroad.

Franchises around the world have been looking to expand their brands, with Asia a popular target for growth, and many in the sports industry have long seen Huawei as a company ­willing and able to part with a few million in sponsorship dollars.

But, in truth, these deals do more for Huawei in the long term than they do for the clubs in the short term. Shunned in the US and blocked in Australia, Huawei has employed the soft power avenue of sports to get its name first known, and then, it hopes, embraced overseas as it continues to expand globally.

Judging by the fact that around one-third of the world's population is connected to networks that use its gear, Huawei already appears well on the way to global domination. Now it's hoping sports will take it all the way there.

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer.
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