Anta, a Chinese sports brand, has reportedly ended its partnership with former table tennis world champion Zhang Jike after he was allegedly implicated in a gambling scandal.
Chinese social media platform Weibo was abuzz with news of the latest scandal involving the multiple-time world champion. Investigative reporter Li Weiao broke the story with a detailed article claiming that Zhang owed millions in gambling debts and had shared private videos of his ex-girlfriend (a famous Chinese actress) with the debtor who then used them to extort the actress.
Shortly after the news broke, a flurry of hashtags related to the Zhang scandal flooded Weibo’s hot search list, with “Anta deletes Zhang Jike promotional content” and “Zhang Jike has been caught gambling many times” surpassing a staggering 1 billion views and 680 million views respectively.
Zhang’s team, however, refuted such claims in a statement posted on Weibo, stating that “Zhang has no debt issues, and he has never violated someone’s privacy to further his own interests. The rumours are complete fabrications.” According to Sina Entertainment, Zhang Jike’s attorney has revealed plans to take legal action against the investigator.
Anta is not the only brand to have cut ties with the star athlete. Shortly after the allegations surfaced, Zhang’s additional sponsors, FAW Toyota, Nutrend, and Nivea, were also quick to terminate their partnership with the celebrity.
Chinese sports brands have been known to work with celebrity sponsors to promote their products and reach a wider audience. However, when a celebrity sponsor gets embroiled in a scandal, it can seriously affect the brand’s reputation. In addition, given that the Chinese government has been cracking down on illegal gambling, being associated with a gambling scandal could have severe legal repercussions for a brand. As such, by cutting ties with the celebrity sponsor, the brand is distancing itself from any legal issues that may arise from the scandal.
All in all, the decision by Chinese brands to cut ties with Zhang Jike highlights the importance of ethical behaviour and reputation management for companies. By cutting ties with the celebrity sponsor quickly and decisively, a brand can limit the damage to its reputation, and send a message to its audience that they take its reputation and values seriously.