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Cologne suspends deal to build academy in China

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — German soccer club Cologne has suspended a deal to build an academy in China, but says it's not cutting all ties with the country. The head of the club's members' council, Stefan Müller-Römer, welcomed the decision, telling local newspaper the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger that Cologne should not cooperate with a country he said was building a “total surveillance state.”

However, the club’s management said Wednesday that Müller-Römer was not speaking on the club's behalf and that sporting reasons, not politics, were behind their decision to pull out of the project in the city of Shenyang in north-east China.

“It has to do with the focusing of resource and the setting of priorities, because we would have had to commit personnel to the project too,” club president Werner Wolf said in a statement. “Other possible forms of cooperation, for example sponsorships with Chinese companies, are not affected by this.”

He added that the club “stands by its democratic values as well as international dialog.” Cologne was promoted to the Bundesliga last season but is struggling to avoid relegation this campaign. It had previously sought to build links with Chinese teams, including sending academy coaches to run workshops for their Chinese counterparts in 2016.

Cologne's decision to pull out comes at a time when Western sports teams and businesses are increasingly confronted by tough choices related to China's political situation. Chinese television decided not to air an Arsenal game this weekend after its German midfielder Mesut Özil criticized China's treatment of Uighurs Muslims last week.

Arsenal distanced itself from Özil's comments. The club said the remarks were his personal opinion and that Arsenal does not involve itself in politics. Some Chinese corporations suspended links with the NBA in October after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, angering fans and officials in China.

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