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CCTV maintains stance on NBA coverage

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has moved to deny claims that it will resume its coverage of the NBA basketball league.

CCTV has not shown the NBA since October after a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey included an image that read “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong” in reference to the protests in the city against the role of the Chinese state in local governance.

The tweet led to a strained relationship between the NBA and China, where rights to the league are held by CCTV and conglomerate Tencent. The latter had resumed its coverage of the NBA prior to the league’s postponement due to the Covid-19 outbreak but CCTV did not follow suit.

It was announced yesterday that Endeavor China chief executive Michael Ma would return to the NBA to head up the league’s operations in China. He will replace Derek Chang, who leaves his position as NBA China chief executive at the end of this week.

Ma’s father, Ma Guoli, was one of CCTV’s founders and helped the broadcaster secure NBA rights in the 1990s. The appointment has led to predictions that CCTV could be willing to resume its coverage of the league but the broadcaster has clarified that this is not the case.

Citing a statement from CCTV, state media outlet Global Times said: “China Central Television refutes rumours that it would restore streaming NBA games, reiterating its consistent stance on national sovereignty.”

In a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo, CCTV News also said that it had “not had any contact or dialogue with the NBA”.

The arrival of Michael Ma at NBA China coincided with the news that Ma Guoli has resigned from his role as an adviser to the Chinese Basketball Association president Yao Ming. The league announced that the resignation is due to “personal reasons”.

The NBA and Tencent agreed a five-year extension to their current deal, which will now run through to the 2024-25 season, in July 2019.

In December, CCTV also removed the Arsenal-Manchester City English Premier League match from its schedule because of comments made by Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil on Twitter. The German player had criticised China for the country’s controversial policies towards its Muslim Uighur minority, and other Muslims for staying silent on the subject.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver earlier this week laid out a series of options to players about a possible restart of the 2019-20 season. Silver is willing to wait until June to decide if and when the season could resume, with a neutral-venue model viewed as the safest and most practical model.