PHOTO ESSAY/In Taiwan, games going on behind closed doors despite COVID-19

04/10/2020 06:24 PM
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One of the HBL games at Taipei Arena.
One of the HBL games at Taipei Arena.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the suspension or postponement of sports events and professional sports leagues around the world, such as the Tokyo Olympic Games and National Basketball Association (NBA).

Sports event organizers in Taiwan are facing the dilemma, given that the spread of the disease has led to health authorities' advising against gatherings of 100 people or more indoors and over 500 people outdoors, but the games are generally still going on.

The High School Basketball League (HBL) began holding games in front of empty stands for the first time in the league's 32-year history starting in early February, when the league had reached its quarterfinal round.

HBL players said the lack of fans and family members cheering during the game was eerily saddening. The restrictions were relaxed at remaining games on March 7 and 8, as long as spectators, mostly family members, maintained safe distances between them and each team limited staff members to no more than 50 people.

New Taipei Municipal Tamsui Vocational High School won its 10th title in the women's group, while Neng Ren Home Economic and Commercial Vocational High School successfully defended the title in the men's group.

A Neng Ren Home Economic and Commercial Vocational High School player tries to grab the ball.
A Neng Ren Home Economic and Commercial Vocational High School player tries to grab the ball.

A debate emerged in late February whether the University Basketball Association should postpone its semifinals and finals on March 21-22 due to the outbreak, but the Sports Administration said March 12 the games would be held at Taipei Arena on schedule under the same spectator guidelines adopted by the HBL.

Chien Hsin University of Science and Technology, a finalist the past three years, finally grabbed the title in the men's group, while Shih Hsin University took home its first title in the women's group.

Shih Hsin University players cheer for the win.
Shih Hsin University players cheer for the win.

The National University Athletics Championships also went ahead without an audience at Taipei Stadium on March 27-28. The Sports Administration said on March 25, however, that the national games for high school students in April and for university students in May would be held at a later unspecified date in response to the ongoing outbreak.

The National University Athletics Championships at Taipei Stadium.
The National University Athletics Championships at Taipei Stadium.

The semi-professional Super Basketball League season has also faced disruptions, first after the New Taipei City government closed all public venues, including the one used by the league, on March 20.

The games then resumed for a short period of time at a private venue in New Taipei, with the total number of people in the venue capped to meet the government guidelines. Every fan had to wear a mask, have their temperature taken, and provide their contact information.

The remaining games of the five-team league's regular season, set to end Sunday, will carry on behind closed doors, the league said.

Taiwan Beer player Chiang Yu-an (in white).
Taiwan Beer player Chiang Yu-an (in white).

Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League, meanwhile, will open Saturday -- the first professional baseball league to begin regular season play anywhere in the world -- but without people in attendance.

The five-team league has played exhibition games with younger players since March 17 under the same format.

Wei Chuan Dragons player Tseng Tao-Jung in an exhibition game March 23. (Photo courtesy of the Wei Chuan Dragons)
Wei Chuan Dragons player Tseng Tao-Jung in an exhibition game March 23. (Photo courtesy of the Wei Chuan Dragons)

The Taoyuan-based Rakuten Monkeys, who are hosting the season opener, have teamed up with a local robot company and will put robots and signboards in the stadium to imitate cheering fans before real people can be allowed in to watch games.

The three-time champions, now under the new ownership of the Japanese e-commerce platform, will face the CTBC Brothers.

(By Chang Hsin-wei, Lung Po-an, Huang Chiao-wen, Yang Chih-fang and Kay Liu)

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Robots and signboards that will be used to imitate fans at the CPBL
Robots and signboards that will be used to imitate fans at the CPBL's opening game.
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