Photo: ATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / Getty Images
The idea that “football is nothing without fans” is so universally accepted that it is considered a cliché among sports commentators. But during this World Cup, state television in China is putting this idea to the test in an extreme way.
State television made sure to make subtle changes to Monday’s coverage of Ghana’s victory over South Korea, in what some consider a classic World Cup match, to ensure that viewers were not exposed to images of supporters without masks and a world without covid restrictions.
In most parts of the world, viewers will have seen on their screens the image of a Ghanaian supporter celebrating without a mask, as the camera zooms in on him.
After Mohammed Kudus had scored the winning goal in the 68th minute, images of cheering and dancing fans were broadcast around the world, as were shots of eager South Korean supporters.
In China, these moments were lived in a different way, especially for viewers of the sports channel of the state broadcaster, CCTV 5.
Instead of watching the fans, Chinese viewers watched the reactions of South Korea coach Paulo Bento and Ghana coach Otto Addo.
And when the match ended, shots of tearful South Korean fans with their heads in their hands were conspicuously absent from the Chinese broadcast.
The change is subtle, but very deliberate.
As anti-lockdown protests rock China, state television executives have been careful to avoid broadcasting images of a world largely moving away from Covid-19 restrictions.
It is not uncommon for big tournament announcers to be given the option to choose their own camera angles and often some set a slight delay to allow image selection and editing before the audience sees them.
The BBC realized that there was a delay of about 52 seconds between its own coverage of the match and that of CCTV 5.
In this case, it came after images of fans in stadiums, celebrating without masks in packed stadiums, stoked anger in China, where sudden lockdowns and restrictions remain commonplace and controversial.
On Chinese social media, users took notice of the differences and expressed their frustration at the different way the entire world seems to be treating the virus.
An open letter questioning the zero covid policies in China and asked if it was a country “on the same planet” as Qatarspread quickly on the WeChat messaging app last week, before it was censored.
“On one side of the world is the carnival that is the World Cup, on the other are the rules of not visiting public places for five days,” wrote a user on the Weibo social media platform.
even the newspaper Global Timeswhich is backed by the state, has admitted that some fans “prefer to watch the games at home with their families” as many Chinese cities remain under restrictions.
And while wide-angle shots showing some fans without masks are impossible to avoid entirely, close-ups of fans enjoying the action without restraint are also unlikely to return to China.
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