China football kicks off with minute's silence for COVID-19 victims

China football kicks off with minute's silence for COVID-19 victims

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Chinese Super League - Shanghai SIPG Training
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Chinese Super League - Shanghai SIPG Training - Shanghai, China - July 14, 2020. Shanghai SIPG players take part in a training following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. REUTERS/Aly Song

SUZHOU: The Chinese Super League (CSL) held a minute's silence on Saturday (Jul 25) before the season kicked off five months late because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Players bowed their heads to remember virus victims and medical staff as Fabio Cannavaro's reigning champions Guangzhou Evergrande faced FA Cup winners Shanghai Shenhua.

The opening match of the badly delayed campaign was being played behind closed doors in the city of Dalian, which along with Suzhou is hosting CSL games for the next two months.

Wuhan Zall, the club from the city that was ground zero of the pandemic, play newly promoted Qingdao Huanghai later on Saturday in Suzhou, near Shanghai.

The number of virus infections has dwindled markedly in China but Dalian is currently the scene of a small cluster of fresh cases, putting Chinese football officials on edge.

READ: China steps up testing after COVID-19 cluster in major port city

The Chinese Football Association and CSL are taking no risks with the new season, which was supposed to begin in February but became one of the earliest sporting victims of the health crisis.

The 16 CSL teams have been divided into two groups, in Suzhou and Dalian, and players must spend the first two months living in sealed-off hotels.

The likes of Evergrande's Brazilian international Paulinho and the former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini will see only their hotel, training pitches and stadiums.

They are not allowed to meet their families and will be tested for coronavirus once a week.

The 32-year-old Belgian Fellaini is the only known coronavirus case in the CSL and spent three weeks in hospital before his release in April. He was not seriously ill.

Domestic sport is slowly resuming in China, with the Chinese Basketball Association league set to welcome fans back into matches from Sunday.

However, the Chinese government has ruled out staging most international competitions this year to stop the spread of coronavirus.

On Friday, all top-level tennis tournaments pencilled in for 2020 in China were cancelled, including the WTA Finals and Shanghai Masters.

Source: AFP/dv

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