Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Coronavirus: Premier League popularity soars in China after outbreak

Posted on 7 February 2020 by Olga Bagatini
(photo: Premier League)

The outbreak of Coronavirus is continuing to cause huge disruption across Asia. Several cities in China — where the virus that has affected over 28,000 people started — and other countries with cases had to cancel, postpone or move their competitions to other venues. However, that has driven viewership numbers of sports across the region.

Many cities have been shut down and a great number of people are in quarantine. Public spaces including universities, libraries, gyms, and swimming pools have been closed, leaving not many entertainment options to the population, which has resulted in watching more sports on TV — especially Premier League.

“PPTV, the official broadcaster of the Premier League in China made last week’s fixtures available for free and saw huge numbers tuning in to games”, said Colin O’Hanlon, NBA producer in Hong Kong, to the Sports Gazette.

“The sports gaming industry too has seen large numbers of participation due mainly to the closure of schools and universities all over Asia.”

Chinese Super League was due to start on 22 February but was postponed indefinitely after the quick spread of the deadly virus. Other sporting events were impacted including the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments. Team GB was personally affected and is now playing for a spot in Tokyo in Belgrade, Serbia, instead of Chinese city Foshan.

“While there is obvious disappointment at sadness at doing so, there is also a sense of realism and acceptance that under no circumstances should these events take place. Long term I don’t think it will affect the confidence sporting bodies have on holding events in China and eventually they will recover for this”, added O’Hanlon.

Upcoming events are also in risk: Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai and World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing could be postponed too. Even the Olympics could be affected, as organisers expressed ’strong concerns’ about the virus ‘throwing cold water on the momentum toward the Games’ in a recent interview to Japanese broadcaster NHK.

“It is probably still too early to know if it will have a major impact. Tokyo 2020 Olympics organisers have set up a task force to coordinate with public health authorities on responding to the outbreak and remain positive about hosting the games”, said O’Hanlon.

“Much will depend on the next few weeks and if the virus spreads further across Asia and the world but for now I believe the Games will go ahead without any disruption.”

‘Biggest impact on coming soon qualifiers’

According to the NBA producer, the biggest impact might be for Chinese athletes who are due to compete in qualifiers over the next few months. “Although no Chinese athlete looking to qualify for the Games is currently known to have the virus, the difficulties in logistics and travel from China may be the biggest obstacle to overcome.”

With less than six months to Tokyo, athletes finding alternative training indoors to keep up their training routines. Chinese women’s football team, for example, is in quarantine in Brisbane ahead of their Olympic qualifier matches next week.

“Remarkable images of the team training in hotel corridors dominated social media in China, “along with clips of many Chinese athletes undergoing makeshift training at home in a bid to stay fit and motivate others to do the same”, explained O’Hanlon.

But for amateur athletes, the fear of coronavirus is not worth keeping their sports routines. Former David Cup player for Venezuela, Miguel Cicena runs a tennis academy in Hong Kong. “Tough doing sports at the moment here. My academy is fully function but people are scared.”

“On a societal level there has been a major change”, adds O’Hanlon. “There are far fewer cars on the road, fewer people travelling on public transport and most public spaces have been closed. In the past few days, there has been widespread panic buying of items such as rice, toilet paper and bleach due to scaremongering and misinformation online.

“Queues for masks have dominated the news cycle with thousands standing in lines throughout the night to secure masks for as much as three times the original price. For a city still struggling to come to terms with nearly 10 months of bitter political disputes and widespread protests, preventing and recovering from the Coronavirus may prove to be the biggest challenge yet.”