Professional cross-country skier Therese Johaug seems to have given in to strong criticism and ended a “cooperation” deal she had with the Chinese communications giant Huawei. It’s been under fire for its alleged ties to the Chinese government and the facial recognition technology used to identify and persecute the Uyghur minority in China.
Johaug and her manager refused to comment further or answer any questions about a message sent to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) last week from Huawei. It read that Huawei was, “with regrets,” releasing Johaug from a “cooperation agreement” with immediate effect. The only reason given was to “let her focus all her energy on what should be her focus … remaining the best cross-country skier in the world.”
Statements from both Huawei and Johaug’s manager Jørn Ernst were full of face-saving language, with Huawei claiming it “has always highly valued” its “cooperation with Therese” and hopes it could resume in the future. NRK reported that Ernst responded in a written statement that he and Johaug also “highly valued” how Huawei was “taking responsibility” in releasing Johaug from her contract with the huge multinational conglomerate.
Lots of ‘value’ cast aside
“We have highly valued the cooperation we have had with Huawei as a company, and the people we have become acquainted with there,” Ernst wrote in a statement Thursday evening. He made it clear he did not want to comment further. The actual financial value of Johaug’s deal with Huawei remained unclear.
NRK reported that it had met Johaug earlier in the day at an assembly of the national team at Hafjell. She wouldn’t answer any questions tied to her Huawei deal, saying only that the two parties “had a good dialogue.” National team leader Espen Bjervig didn’t want to comment either on Johaug’s deal with the controversial company, which Norway’s own police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste) has warned Norwegian companies against.
Bjervig did say, however, that he had spoken with Johaug’s manager about the deal but claimed it was “up to individual athletes to determine with whom they wanted to associate or work.” When NRK asked Bjervig whether he’s asked Johaug to end her agreement with Huawei, which had been a target of criticism in Norwegian media, he merely said it was “an evaluation that Therese must make herself. As long as it is a legal company in Norway and doesn’t violate our commercial guidelines, we leave it those who have the agreements.”
‘Tone deaf’ athlete
The announcement about Huawei and Johaug severing ties came just a few hours later. It also came after stinging criticism from commentator Jan Arild Snoen in the Oslo-based conservative think tank Minerva. He made it clear that Johaug should end her deal with Huawei immediately, since it could only be grounded on one goal: to make money.
“I think it’s reprehensible that she carries on in this manner,” Snoen told newspaper VG. “It’s simply a shame that an athlete can be so tone deaf about the world around her.” NRK reported that Scandinavian pop singer Zara Larsson broke her contract with Huawei last summer, while football player Antoine Griezmann did the same earlier this month.