The Chinese Basketball Association on Saturday become the first of China’s major domestic leagues to restart following months of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The first game, played at the Qingdao Sports Center between Zhejiang Lions and the Nanjing Monkey Kings, had more than 1m online viewers, according to a Xinhua report. With five more games played during the rest of the day, viewership eventually reached 2m.
The phrase “CBA rematch” was the most frequently searched on Chinese online platforms over the weekend, including Weibo, Hupu and Douyin. Fans were able to use the Migu Video mobile app from telco China Mobile – a partner of the CBA – to project their images onto big screens in arenas during the games, in an initiative referred to as a “5G cloud of spectators”.
Before the games, players observed a minute of silence in tribute to those who have died during the coronavirus epidemic.
The CBA’s restart was approved by Chinese sports and health officials after months of discussions between the league, local government, health experts and the country’s sports administration. In accordance with the CBA’s anti-epidemic policy, the 20 teams of the CBA league have been divided into two divisions hosted in two venues to reduce travel. The remainder of the season will be played out in Qingdao in Shandong province and the southern city of Dongguan in Guangdong province, with all matches played behind closed doors.
Commenting on the restart, Wang Fei, head coach of Shanxi Loongs, said: “With the Covid-19 pandemic bringing Chinese basketball to a long standstill, we have experienced an unprecedented off-season of more than three months…In fact, the team resumed training about two months ago. We’ve been waiting for the restart and now, finally, it’s here.”
The resumption was a victory for Yao Ming, president of the CBA, who has worked hard with the authorities to resume the league’s season, which has been on hold since February 1.