World Cup: Chinese TV cuts scenes of maskless fans as Covid-19 anger mounts

Japan supporters at the World Cup match between Japan and Costa Rica on Nov 27. PHOTO: AFP

China’s state broadcaster is cutting close-up shots of maskless fans at the World Cup in Qatar, after early coverage sparked anger at home where street protests have erupted over harsh Covid-19 restrictions.

China is the last major economy still attempting to stamp out the domestic spread of Covid-19 with snap lockdowns, lengthy quarantines and mass testing campaigns.

During a live broadcast of Sunday’s game between Japan and Costa Rica, state broadcaster CCTV Sports replaced close-up shots of maskless fans waving flags with images of players, officials or the football stadium, AFP observed.

CCTV Sports showed distant shots of the crowd where it was difficult to make out individual faces, and fewer crowd shots compared to the live telecast of the same game on online platforms including Douyin – China’s version of TikTok.

Tens of millions of people in major cities including Beijing, Guangzhou and Chongqing were under some form of lockdown as of Sunday – a contrast with the raucous World Cup crowds that have infuriated many Chinese social media users.

An open letter questioning the country’s Covid-19 policies and asking if China was “on the same planet” as Qatar spread on the popular WeChat messaging app last Tuesday, before censors removed it from the platform.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Beijing and Shanghai on Sunday to protest against China’s zero-Covid policy in a rare outpouring of public anger against the state.

Meanwhile, Fox Corp said more Americans tuned in to watch the United States draw 0-0 with a heavily favoured England on Friday than any other men’s football match in history.

Fox Sports drew a television audience of nearly 15.4 million people for the game.

That is 6 per cent more than the previous high of 14.5 million for the World Cup final featuring Italy and Brazil in 1994, the company said.

Comcast Corp’s Telemundo said the US-England match averaged 4.6 million viewers across its Spanish-language television and streaming platforms.

Fox and Telemundo agreed in 2011 to pay about US$1 billion (S$1.37 billion) for the rights to televise the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the US.

Four years ago, when the Americans failed to qualify, the men’s tournament averaged 5 million viewers across the two networks, marking declines from the previous two tournaments.

Women still hold the crown for highest football viewership with 25.4 million people tuning in to Fox to watch the US beat Japan in the final of the 2015 Women’s World Cup.


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