Anta, Toyota Cuts Ties With Table Tennis Star Zhang Jike Over Sex Tape, Gambling Rumors

What Happened: In what could be one of the biggest scandals of the year, Chinese Olympic gold medalist Zhang Jike has been dropped by major brands after allegedly sharing intimate videos of his former girlfriend to pay off his gambling debt.

Earlier last week, rumors emerged on Chinese social media that the retired table tennis player had leaked intimate footage of his ex, identified as Chinese actress Jing Tian, to a loan shark that he could use for extortion. In a WeChat article, investigative reporter Li Weiao wrote that the creditor tried to blackmail Jing for $3.1 million (22 million RMB), the equivalent of Zhang’s debts, before reducing the amount to $2.4 million (17 million RMB). The creditor was then sued by Jing and arrested. 

“Zhang’s debt and video issue is not just celebrity gossip — it’s a serious criminal case,” wrote Li, who has been investigating Zhang’s debt since 2020. “Jing is completely the victim.”

On March 31, Zhang’s team posted a statement denying the rumors and threatening legal action against netizens who publish or disseminate related content. In response, Li posted an image of a loan contract in Zhang’s name for about $726,000 (5 million RMB).

The Jing Take: Despite Zhang refuting all accusations, brands aren’t taking any chances. Those that were endorsing the 35-year-old athlete quickly announced an end to their cooperation, including Anta, Toyota, and Chinese nutrition firm Nuotelande, while others that had previously worked with him like Safeguard and Inoherb scrubbed related promotional materials from their social media feeds.

Anta confirmed that it has terminated ties with the table tennis player. Photo: Anta

Celebrity scandals aren’t treated lightly in China — particularly allegations of this nature, where criminal charges could stick. In fact, China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission published an op-ed on April 3 to address the incident, stressing that three issues must be investigated: whether anyone has committed a crime; whether there is slander involved; and whether people are trying to generate hype to gain online traffic. 

Following the controversies with Kris Wu, Zheng Shuang and others, Chinese regulators have cracked down on entertainers with “lapsed morals” from endorsing products and even blacklisted some from re-entering the industry. The National Radio and Television Administration has also called on these performers to abide by social ethics, personal morality, and family virtues, emphasizing the role of celebrities as positive role models for the general public.

Although sports stars are typically seen as “safer” brand ambassadors than actors or musicians, they are apparently just as prone to falling short and facing scrutiny. That said, the incident with Zhang shows that brands have improved their reaction times from previous controversies, unwilling to allow the scent of scandal to linger near them. Even if Zhang were to clear the rumors, it may be difficult for the sports champ-turned-entertainer to return to his previous level of marketability. 

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.


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