Huawei ends Australian rugby league team sponsorship amid political tensions

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian operation of Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei said on Monday it would end its sponsorship of a national rugby league team a year earlier than expected due to a downturn in its business.

The company said it would terminate its sponsorship of the Canberra Raiders at the end of the 2020 season as a “continued negative business environment is having a larger than originally forecasted impact on our planned revenue stream”.

The move comes amid strained relations between Australia and China as Canberra seeks to curtail Beijing’s influence amid concerns over issues including trade and security.

Australia became the first country to effectively ban Huawei from its 5G network on national security grounds in 2018, under then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. The country’s relations with China have since deteriorated and have reached a low point during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Even after the Turnbull government banned us from 5G we managed to find the resources to continue the sponsorship but we just can’t financially support it any longer,” said Jeremy Mitchell, Huawei Australia’s chief corporate affairs officer, in a statement.

The company has backed the rugby league club for nearly a decade. The club’s board members include former intelligence chief Dennis Richardson, while a former defence department secretary, Allan Hawke, is the chairman.

Huawei will keep its name on the team’s training centre, and a place on the rear of the football jersey, the statement said.

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