April 5, 2023
BEIJING – A Chinese health brand declared on Monday that it has terminated its cooperation with brand ambassador Zhang Jike after the table tennis superstar was allegedly involved in a scandal.
Nuotelande, a company that mainly sells nutrition products such as protein powder and vitamins, posted a statement on Monday afternoon via its account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like platform, saying “we’ve terminated all partnership agreements with Zhang.”
Zhang, a multi-time world champion, has been recently embroiled in controversy as some netizens claimed he owed several million yuan in debt due to gambling, and that he sent private videos of his ex-girlfriend, a Chinese actress, to the debtor, who then allegedly used the videos to extort the woman.
On Thursday, Zhang’s studio responded via Sina Weibo that he does not have any debt problems, nor had he compromised anyone’s privacy, adding that the allegations were pure fabrication.
On Friday, Zhang’s attorney posted a statement saying that they have started collecting evidence on people who are trying to harm his reputation and that they are preparing to sue those who posted rumors about him multiple times or who refused to delete such information after they were told to.
Despite the responses, the allegations remained a hot topic after journalist Li Weiao said on his Weibo account on Friday that he had learned the rumors were true.
Li wrote that Zhang provided private videos of someone to a third party and that Zhang had more than 5 million yuan ($728,000) in debt that he has not yet paid. Li also disclosed a photo of a loan contract for 5 million yuan with Zhang listed as the borrower.
As of press time, the incident was still being heatedly discussed on the Chinese social platform, and information involving Zhang rocketed to the top of Weibo’s trending list.
By 6 pm on Monday, for example, a topic with a hashtag of Zhang Jike’s name on Weibo had been viewed over 18.5 billion times, while another topic tagged “Zhang Jike’s loan contract” had been read more than 1.7 billion times.
The case has also prompted a few other popular brands that previously worked with Zhang to take action.
For instance, Anta Sports, a leading sportswear brand, told Economic View, a mobile app operated by the China News Service, on Monday that it has terminated its partnership with Zhang.
Content related to Zhang was not found when China Daily typed the athlete’s name on Monday on the official Weibo accounts of a number of brands, including Anta Sports and Safeguard, a brand of antibacterial hand sanitizer under Procter & Gamble, a consumer goods multinational company.
Born in Qingdao, Shandong province, the 35-year-old Zhang is among the most notable players in table tennis history and has nearly 12.5 million followers on Weibo.
He is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, has been crowned world champion seven times, although he hasn’t played competitively for the past few years.