Hao Haidong, 50, was a household name among millions of soccer fans in China in the 1990s and 2000s, and briefly played for English club Sheffield United, but in recent years had been relatively low profile. On Thursday, however, he made a surprise appearance in two videos on the YouTube channel of Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese tycoon and fierce critic of the Chinese government.
“The Communist Party’s totalitarian rule in China has caused horrific atrocities against humanity,” he said, denouncing the party as a “terrorist organization” that has “trampled over democracy, violated the rule of law and dishonored lawful agreements.”
He also accused Beijing of violating its promise to Hong Kong to keep the “one country, two systems” principle unchanged for 50 years, and “brutally cracking down on Hong Kongers defending democracy and freedoms.”
It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for a successful Chinese sports star to unleash such a blistering public denunciation of the Communist Party and openly call for its downfall. Dissidents who publicly criticize the party or demand democratic reforms often face lengthy prison sentences.
Hao has been outspoken on social and sports issues, but had not directly challenged the Communist Party until Thursday.
On Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said: “For such absurd remarks I am not interested in commenting at all.”
YouTube is banned in China, but news of Hao’s extraordinary public comments were fast spreading on Chinese social media by Thursday afternoon, catching many by surprise. His account on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, appears to have since been deleted.
“The most fundamental reason that I spoke out today against the (Chinese Communist) system is that I think the Chinese people and China’s future should no longer be trampled upon by it,” he said in the interview.
“I think the Chinese Communist Party should be kicked out of humanity. The ghost of Communism should no longer be allowed to drift in this world. This is what I’ve concluded after 50 years of living.”
When asked if he was worried about retaliations for speaking out, Hao said he and his wife were prepared for the attacks and pressure to come. “Today, we’ve made the biggest and most correct decision in our lives,” he said.
Hao was a star on the Chinese national soccer team when it made its only World Cup appearance in 2002. Having retired for more than a decade, the former striker still holds the record as China’s all-time top scorer for the national team and in the Chinese league.
In the videos, Hao did not reveal how he had got in touch with Guo, a Chinese property tycoon-turned-dissident who lives in exile in New York. Since fleeing China in 2014 amid a graft probe by Chinese authorities, Guo has frequently leveled accusations of corruption against Chinese leaders on social media and in livestreams on YouTube.