Coronavirus pandemic

Taiwan first up to the plate

Robot mannequins in stands will cheer on one baseball team while football also kicks off on island

It might feel like a full house in Taoyuan City with fans bringing their pets. But it turns out they are just dummies in place of the audience ahead of Taiwan's first professional baseball league game of the season. With Saturday's game postponed owi
It might feel like a full house in Taoyuan City with fans bringing their pets. But it turns out they are just dummies in place of the audience ahead of Taiwan's first professional baseball league game of the season. With Saturday's game postponed owing to a downpour, this crowd will have to wait for more action. PHOTO: REUTERS

TAIPEI • Taiwan swung into a new baseball and football season on Sunday, with one team planning to place robot mannequins in the empty stands as the island bucked the global trend for scrapping sports events during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite its proximity and trade links with China, Taiwan has so far managed to keep a lid on the Covid-19 disease that has swept the globe.

It enacted travel bans soon after the virus emerged publicly and rolled out comprehensive testing, contact tracing and quarantining.

Some 100 days into the crisis, it has fewer than 400 confirmed cases and six deaths up till yesterday despite schools, offices, restaurants and bars largely remaining open.

While large gatherings like religious festivals have been scrapped, the local authorities have allowed the baseball and football seasons to get under way, albeit behind closed doors.

The 31st baseball campaign saw the Chinatrust Brothers take on the Uni-President 7-Eleven Lions and the fixture was broadcast live, while the opening game of the fourth edition of the Taiwan Football Premier League pitted champions Tatung against Taipower.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen posted a picture on her Facebook page of her watching the baseball game at home, accompanied by one of her cats, and calling on everyone else to join her and watch from home.

"What's more important is once the epidemic is over, we'll see each other at the baseball pitch," she wrote.

On Saturday, Rakuten Monkeys unveiled robot mannequins that banged on drums and cardboard cut-outs of fans dressed in home colours and caps at their stadium in Taoyuan county.

The stand-ins were ready to cheer the hosts against Chinatrust Brothers for what would have been the first game of the season on Saturday, but heavy rain led to its postponement.

Baseball is the most popular sport in Taiwan with some 240 games scheduled for the coming term.

"We are the first pro baseball league to start playing in the world during the pandemic," the Chinese Professional Baseball League said in a statement. "We welcome everyone to follow the new 2020 season and to relax from their tense lives because of the outbreak."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2020, with the headline 'Taiwan first up to the plate'. Print Edition | Subscribe