Chinese social media is ablaze with complaints about a volleyball match when the national women’s team of China competed while sporting N95 masks.
Many online users vented their rage, alleging that the nation’s zero-Covid plan was being abandoned at the expense of the players’ health.
Later, the players removed their masks for the second set, which they won.
Later, the China Volleyball Association issued an apology, blaming the choice on “lack of expertise.”
Many people were nonetheless critical, with one noting that it was an instance of Chinese officials going “too far” with the mask requirement.
The match between the Chinese squad and Iran took place on Thursday at the Asian Cup in the Philippines.
Photos from the game showing the sportsmen wearing masks swiftly spread on social media, sparking an unusual online backlash that garnered more than 16 million views on Weibo, China’s most popular social media site.
A Weibo user commented: “Which is more essential, performance or health? We must assume some accountability for our athletes.”
The Chinese Volleyball Association responded on Thursday with a public apology in response to the outrage expressed online.
Organizers of the squad claimed in a post on Weibo that they were aware of players on other teams who had the Covid virus before the game and that certain symptoms had been detected among the Chinese team.
They made their players enter the arena wearing masks in order to stop the spread. But they said that the squad kept the masks on throughout the first half since they weren’t sure if players had to wear them while on the floor.
The majority of the players removed their masks at halftime after losing the opening set, and they went on to defeat Iran 3-1.
The team notified us in time [so] that our players removed the masks and concluded the following game, the organisers stated, “after realising that playing with a mask is not good for the health of the players.”
The message also alluded to the new “challenges” Chinese teams playing overseas were facing, many of whose members had never heard of Covid before.
China still imposes some of the world’s strongest COVID regulations, such as the requirement for interior and outdoor masks, abrupt, severe lockdowns, and restricted borders.
Athletes have used masks during sporting events in the past, though.
Both teams wore masks earlier this year during an ice hockey game between Canada and the Russian Olympic Committee because of “safety and security concerns” over upcoming test results.
After hearing that the results of their tests were negative, they subsequently took their masks off.