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澳门新葡亰app官方下载1495:Pro sports leagues season restart on hold

Shandong Luneng's Pedro Delgado, center, in action in a Chinese Super League match against Beijing Guo'an in July, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

With foreign players' inbound route now blocked by the country's new entry restriction amid the coronavirus pandemic, China's professional sports leagues have put their highly-anticipated restart on hold.

Even with the season still locked out due to the virus crisis, Chinese Super League club Shanghai SIPG has scored the buzzer-beating goal of the year after bringing its Brazilian trio – Oscar, Hulk and newly-signed left winger Ricardo Lopes – back to Shanghai on Friday midnight just before China's newly-imposed entry ban on foreign nationals took effect on Saturday to deal with the spread of COVID-19 through imported cases.

Flying on a luxury Bombardier private jet, the three Brazilians – worth 120 million euros ($134 million) in total transfer fees – landed at Shanghai's Pudong International Airport just 11 minutes before the entry ban came into effect the next morning, and they have been put under a 14-day quarant澳门新葡亰app官方下载1495ine, obeying China's epidemic prevention rules, according to a 163.com report.

However, the entry suspension that was issued by the Foreign Ministry on Thursday night still caught most of China's professional sports clubs off guard as a majority of their foreign employees, either players, coaches or trainers, are now left overseas without knowing when they can they rejoin their respective Chinese teams.

Foreign nationals arriving with diplomatic, service, courtesy or C-type visas are not affected by the suspension, while the restriction will be adjusted in light of the evolving situation on the pandemic, according to the ministry.

With China's strict outbreak-control measures taking effect to curb new infection cases domestically, fans' expectations had grown that the CSL would start its delayed 2020 season as early as late April, so the Chinese Basketball Association could resume its suspended 2019-20 regular campaign behind closed doors at about the same time.

The indefinite absence of some of the leagues' import players though seems likely to hold back any imminent restart plans.

According to statistics by Lanxiong Sport, a Chi澳门新葡亰app官方下载1495nese sports industry analyzing agency, only 35 out of 71 import players who signed up with CSL clubs for the 2020 season had made it back to China by Friday, while 21 of 46 foreign players and coaches hired by 20 CBA teams had returned before the deadline.

Even having acquired Chinese passports to be exempted from the ban, some of the country's naturalized players, such as perennial CSL champion Guangzhou Evergrande's Brazil-born striker Ricardo Goulart, have been told by clubs to hold off their return plans due to the reduction in the number of international flights departing for China and the risk of infection during long trips.

From Sunday, China's domestic airlines are required to reduce their international routes to only one per country and cap the number of flights to no more than one flight per week, according to the Civil Aviation Administration.

Former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini became the first CSL player to return a positive test for the virus upon his arrival in China on March 22, and the Belgian is currently in 澳门新葡亰app官方下载1495the middle of 14 days of quarantine.

The severe challenge against imported COVID-19 infections, highlighted by the Fellaini case among others, coupled with the latest entry suspension, has prompted the country's sports governing body to use extra caution on any proposals to resume domestic league play, despite effective virus containment at home.

The General Administration of Sport of China, the country's top sports authority, had called off a plan proposed by the CBA company to restart its season on April 15 at closed-door tournaments in light of the remaining risk at the moment, according to Beijing Youth Daily report.

The league company is also discussing a contingency plan to allow each team to use only one foreigner on court at any given time, down from two earlier this season, if the play is allowed to resume before the travel ban is removed to make the competition relatively fair in favor of foreign-absent teams, the report said.

Still, some of the league's high-profile foreign employees, including Beijing Ducks' American guard Jeremy Lin and former NBA All-Star Stephon Marbury, who now coaches the Ducks' cross-town rival the Royal Fighters, have returned China safely on early-planned trips.

Marbury, who finished his 14-day isolation on Wednesday following his arrival in the Chinese capital on March 11, rejoined his team at the club's east Beijing training facility on Friday after retesting negative.

His appearance at the gym lifted the spirit of his players, who he kept overseeing online during his quarantine, and fac澳门新葡亰app官方下载1495ilitated the team's preparation for the pending restart after 30 regular season games.

"I am extremely happy that the coach is back. It means that I can continue improving under his watch," said Zhang Fan, a 24-year-old guard on the Royal Fighters.

Having built a deep bond with China since joining the CBA as a player in 2010, Marbury, who enjoys interacting with over 5 million followers on his Weibo account, has constantly posted updates on his life under quarantine, offering words of respect to China's virus-control measures while forwarding news related to the fight against the disease on the social networking platform since returning to Beijing.

A photo of a certification letter issued by the neighborhood office covering Marbury's Beijing apartment, which reads, "We hereby certify that Comrade澳门新葡亰app官方下载1495 Marbury has finished the quarantine", went viral on Weibo on Wednesday after being liked by over 100,000 users hours after released.

"We need to stay calm and united in this fight against the pandemic. As long as we stand together and act in unity, it's only a matter of time for us to defeat the virus," read a Chinese article posted by the 43-year-old New York native.