This was a year where overseas sports had to set their relationship status with China to “It’s complicated”. It might even be that 2019 will come to be seen as the watershed moment for those hoping to get their slice of China, when everyone learned there was only ever going to be one winner. The NBA found that out to its cost. Just as they found when it comes to China, sport and politics are inextricably linked. This lesson came following a tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey expressing his personal support for the anti-government protests in Hong Kong. Morey tweeted an image with the words “Fight for freedom. Stand with Hong Kong” and those 40 characters threatened to undo a four-decade-old relationship between the NBA and China. It did not go that far in the end. The NBA China Games still went ahead and the league is being broadcast , but there have been losers . The Rockets have been all but wiped from the Chinese internet and Tencent has taken a massive hit in the pocket, as has the league itself. The brakes have been put on that special relationship and we have all been reminded who is in charge. It’s as if Rockets star James Harden being stopped by Shanghai police and having his bike confiscated in the summer was a symbol of the road ahead. Needless to say, the Rockets’ annual Chinese New Year jerseys might not be getting made this year, unless they opt for traditional rather than simplified characters. English Premier League side Arsenal are another team who might well shelve their own annual CNY celebrations, again unless the players fancy butchering Cantonese rather than Mandarin this time. Mesut Ozil saw to that with a social media post denouncing fellow Muslims for ignoring the treatment of the Uygurs in Xinjiang. An NBA-style fallout followed , with the player offered a visit to the region by the Chinese foreign ministry, who also announced he had been “ deceived by fake news ”. His social media presence has been scrubbed, he has been pretty much wiped from Chinese search engines and he has been pulled from the eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 video game. Some fans even burned his shirt. Arsenal’s game against Manchester City was dropped from the CCTV schedule . What made it all the more interesting was not everyone knew exactly what he said. His message was not published during the widespread criticism. That was in part because of the detailing of the alleged human-rights abuses and in part because of his use of the term “East Turkestan”, something Beijing regards as tantamount to terrorism. It really is complicated. Ozil, who found support from US secretary of state Mike Pompeo , was also called “silly” in a China Daily editorial. That’s how the Chinese media works, as we saw with Sun Yang . The swimmer’s doping trial hung over him for most of the year, only being heard in November . By then the Olympic gold medallist had added to his world championships tally in South Korea and received his fair share of criticism from fellow athletes in the process. Xinhua took aim at them, Aussie swimmer Mack Horton in particular , in an editorial. Following the hearing – which was a mummer’s farce thanks to translation issues – the Chinese media went even harder for their star man. There was a lot of soft soaping, with looks inside the swimmer’s home and his return to training, but there was also the revelation that one of the testers on the night in question was a “ construction worker ”. It’s as if Scooby Doo met the Village People and we’re not even near a verdict. That will come mid-January , CAS said, giving us an early candidate for the biggest sporting scandal of next year, whichever way the verdict comes out. While political point-scoring prevailed in the last 12 months, there were several cases of outright cheating, too. The biggest of them all was at the Boston Marathon where some Chinese runners tried to outwit the notoriously stringent qualification requirements. They were caught. There were plenty of scandals in China-based marathons too, along with some bans coming off the back of 2018. The best one of them involved one runner becoming a cyclist as she completed some of the Xuzhou International Marathon on a bike. Twice. A statement released by organisers read: “After an official found her and stopped her, the participant again rode (on the bike). She violated the rules.” She was banned for life. Somehow that’s not even the most “and finally” moment of the year in Chinese sport. That goes to China’s military orienteers who lost their moral compass and cheated at the World Military Games. A fitting end to the year and time to ask if even the orienteers are cheating, where are we headed next year?