What China’s Return to Sports Means for the U.S. Leagues

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The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) will not resume play before the start of May after failing to receive the governmental approval needed to restart their season.

Chinese officials were reportedly hesitant to grant their domestic pro sports leagues permission to recommence after the IOC announced last week it was postponing the Tokyo Olympics. The abandoned restarts of basketball leagues in Japan and South Korea only served to further concerns about the feasibility of restarting games on April 15th as the league had hoped to do.

Once the games begin again, it’s expected that both the fans (if permitted) and sponsors will turn out in droves. Greg Turner, a 20-year veteran of China’s sports and entertainment, said that day-to-day life on the mainland is already back to normal.

“You walk down the street and besides the fact that everyone is still wearing a mask, you wouldn’t have any idea that there was an issue here over the last few months. Restaurants are packed. The fans will come back pretty fast and sponsors are chomping at the bit for sports leagues to start back up," said Turner.

While the fans may want to return, there’s no indication that the Chinese government is ready to let them. Instead, the CBA is talking about clustering its teams in one or two cities and playing games in a round-robin format at a single monitored facility where the players would also be housed to reduce risk.

Turner said that the government would likely "look at how other parts of society are managing before making a decision [on if it will permit thousands of fans to gather at a sporting event]; for example, how has it been working out with movie theaters and music halls?”

Unfortunately for those who hope to attend games, the answer to this point has been ‘not-great’. Movie theaters, which reopened last week, have already been ordered to re-shutter.

The CBA’s new target restart date, four months after the regular season was first halted, does not indicate that the U.S. leagues will be back in action come July. The U.S.’ response to the outbreak—not China’s—will determine when the NBA, NHL and MLB can resume business as usual.

Turner said that “there’s no reason to talk about when the American pro sports leagues will start up again” until the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 begins to trend downward. Health experts have suggested that with social distancing, coronavirus cases could peak in late April. 

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