The China Sports Column is a SupChina weekly feature.
Last Wednesday, ESPN reported that the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) had sent a memo recalling its foreign players to China to prepare for the resumption of the season, which could have been as early as April 2, as stated in the memo. But a lot has changed since then. The NBA suspended its season later that day due to the coronavirus, with all sports soon after grinding to a halt. Then, on Sunday, Beijing announced a mandatory 14-day quarantine of all travelers flying into the city from outside mainland China.
Now it is looking increasingly likely that the CBA will not restart when the calendar turns, despite Chinese authorities beginning to feel like they have the COVID-19 outbreak under control. The league suspended its season on February 1, with most teams having played 30 of their 46 scheduled games. (Two other teams have played 29 games.)
With the new quarantine regulations in place, will foreign players even want to come back?
A source told me that their team was looking “to pull some guanxi” with city officials and bring players in through a backdoor so that players can possibly avoid the mandatory quarantine. The source said he thought some teams could get around the regulations by flying players back via private airports — though the source admitted this would be tough to pull off in a Tier 1 city like Beijing.
“We’d rather have them at home or serviced apartments rather than some hotel controlled by the government,” the source said. “We need to be in a position to support them the best we can, and we can’t do that if they’re in some government-controlled hotel.
“It’s become a bit of a shitshow in the last few days with this hotel quarantine thing. We’re running around trying to get information to the players or their people, but we can’t say anything because no one knows anything.”
The source added said that the league doesn’t expect the players back for at least another couple of weeks, possibly longer.
A second source I spoke to also bemoaned the situation, especially the lack of clarity from the league and authorities.
“I’m pretty sure the league is running around as clueless as us right now, or we’re not getting [the information] we need from the owners or people in contact with the league,” he said. “I don’t know, I feel like [the league] jumped the gun on this one before they knew what was going on.”
Ultimately, both sources thought that the league would resume “at least by May,” with or without foreign stars like Jeremy Lin. (“I’m saddened by the racist comments regarding the virus in China,” Lin posted on Instagram last month. “There are real people suffering and real heroes working around the clock in service to others — please don’t let your fear or ignorance rob you of seeing that.”)
When the games do resume, they will likely be played behind closed doors, and possibly even a limited number of cities. The Guangdong cities of Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Dongguan were mentioned to me specifically as potential hosts for the rest of the season.
The 20-team league will look to rush through the rest of the scheduled games and go straight into its 12-team playoffs.
The defending champion Guangdong Southern Tigers are currently on top of the standings, at 28-2, followed by the Xinjiang Flying Tigers (22-7) and Liaoning Flying Leopards (20-10). There is a five-way tie between teams with 19-11 records for fourth place, including the Lin-led Beijing Ducks and Stephon Marbury-coached Beijing Royal Fighters.
The two Beijing teams last met on November 26 in the wildest game of the year, which featured the Ducks scoring 12 points in 22 seconds and hitting a buzzer-beating three-pointer for the 91-90 win:
Chinese hockey team claim Russia women’s crown
Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays have been crowned the champions of the Russian VHL, the top women’s league outside of North America.
The sister club to the Kontinental Hockey League’s Kunlun Red Star, the Vanke Rays had previously played in Canada prior to this season, as the Chinese Olympic committee wanted the stiffest test for the Chinese players on the team.
The team switched to the Russian VHL after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded last year.
Unlike the men’s team, which only has a single non-naturalized Chinese player on the team and missed the playoffs, the majority of the women’s team are Chinese-born players.
In the final, the Rays beat Agidel Ufa 4-1 to claim the title (watch in embedded video above). The Rays had big contributions from Alex Carpenter, the daughter of Stanley Cup winner Bobby Carpenter, who scored the team’s third goal:
Like father, like daughter.
— Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays (@KRSVankeRays) March 12, 2020
This win should be a big boost to China’s women’s hockey medal hopes at the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.
Shanghai Shenhua strike Ighalo happy to take a paycut to leave China
Odion Ighalo, a striker for Shanghai Shenhua, left China on January 31 to join the global soccer powerhouse Manchester United on loan. He was supposed to be a stopgap after an injury to Marcus Rashford (and after Man U missed out on Jean Kevin-Augustin, who signed with Leeds United).
But Ighalo has somewhat impressed during his time at Old Trafford, scoring key goals in the FA Cup for the Red Devils, and now, as reported by the Sun, Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may want to retain the Nigerian on a permanent basis.
Ighalo currently earns around $300,000 a week at Shenhua, which is a lot — $15.6 million if played out over the year. His mammoth salary would have been a stumbling block to any deal. However, Ighalo, who grew up as a Manchester United fan, has offered to take a 50% pay cut to secure this move.
In other Ighalo news, the 30-year-old has ruled out running for Nigerian president after his run of good form.
The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.