June 19, 2020 / 6:53 AM / 21 days ago

Beijing COVID-19 outbreak plunges CSL into fresh doubt

(Reuters) - An outbreak of the coronavirus in Beijing has further “complicated” plans to start the postponed Chinese Super League (CSL), a medical expert advising the country’s soccer association said.

The CSL was scheduled to start in February but has been postponed indefinitely due to COVID-19.

The outbreak in Beijing, where there have been more than 180 infections recorded in just over a week, could cause further delays, Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease specialist, told state television.

“The schedule is still under discussion because the pandemic just re-surged in Beijing,” Zhang said.

“The potential coronavirus transmissions from Beijing make it more complicated. I think CSL leaders are concerned about that and will keep changing the timetable.”

Zhang noted that European soccer leagues had begun to restart their seasons after being shut down for months due to COVID-19 but said Chinese football was taking a more cautious approach.

“European countries have made the decision to restart, because they believe ... if they can keep coronavirus cases under control and the medical system is working well, it will be okay to restart the games,” he said.

“In China, however, our target is to keep the cases at near zero, so we are much more prudent and we still need more time.”

The director of the Shanghai Administration of Sports told state news agency Xinhua this week that the CSL would resume in July, “if everything goes well.”

The coronavirus shutdown has exacted a heavy toll on Chinese football, with a slew of clubs folding under financial strains, including CSL side Tianjin Tianhai.

China has been cautious about resuming professional sport, even as neighbouring South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have restarted soccer and baseball leagues.

The top flight Chinese Basketball Association league will resume on Saturday in two central hubs in Qingdao and Dongguan but no fans will be present.

Writing by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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