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Huawei ends 9-year-old sponsorship deal with Australian rugby team

Chinese telecom giant Huawei announced on Monday that it will end the world's oldest major sporting sponsorship deal when it ends its contract with Australian Rugby League team Canberra Raiders after nine years, blaming the "continued negative business environment."

The statement did not mention the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the business environment.

Australia has barred the world's largest switching gear manufacturer and a major smartphone brand from involvement in critical national communications infrastructure in recent years, while China has increased pressure to reverse Australian policy.

Last year, Huawei renewed its two-year sponsorship contract until the end of the 2021 season.

"The ongoing negative business environment has a greater impact than originally anticipated on our planned revenue stream and therefore we will have to end our main sponsorship of the invaders at the end of the 2020 season," a Huawei statement said.

The Raiders are the only team in national competition based in the Australian capital Canberra, the center of the national government and national policy-making.

Huawei ends contract with Canberra Raider

The sponsorship was seen as an effort to improve Huawei's public image in the eyes of lawmakers and high-level bureaucrats who barrack the Canberra team.

Dennis Richardson, Raiders board member, former head of the Defense Department, and of the main domestic spy agency, Australian Security Intelligence Organization, had been a vocal supporter of Huawei’s sponsorship deal.

"Even after the Turnbull 5G government banned us, we were able to find the resources to continue the sponsorship, but we can no longer support them financially," Mitchell said in a statement.

Don Forner, chief executive of the Raiders, said the team was " very sad" by the loss of its title sponsor. Neither Huawei nor the team has ever announced the value of the sponsorship.

"The Canberra Raiders and Huawei have enjoyed an impressive partnership for nearly a decade, and so far they have been our longest-serving title sponsor," Mr. Furner said in a statement.

China has made Australia's lifting of Huawei's ban on basic infrastructure a condition of turning around strained bilateral relations. Diplomatic relations have worsened since then as Australia has called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and international responses to it.

The Raiders have become more successful in recent years. The Raiders were runners up in the Premier last year and are in fifth place this season. They last won a premiership in 1994.

Meanwhile, China is trying to encourage Europeans to ensure that Chinese telecom and technology companies have access to their markets.

European phone companies and others that have bought Huawei equipment despite US pressure are pulling it off their networks. Huawei got good news when it overtook rivals Samsung and Apple as the number one smartphone brand in the quarter ending in June thanks to sales in China, but overseas demand is falling.

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