The Chinese Super League held a minute’s silence on Saturday before the season kicked off five months late because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Players bowed their heads to remember virus victims and medical staff as Fabio Cannavaro’s reigning championsGuangzhou Evergrandefaced FA Cup winnersShanghai Shenhua.
The opening match of thebadly delayed campaignwas being played behind closed doors in the city of Dalian, which along with Suzhou is hosting CSL games for the next two months.
Wuhan Zall, the club from the city that was ground zero of the pandemic, play newly promotedQingdao Huanghailater Saturday in Suzhou, near Shanghai.
The number of virus infections hasdwindled markedlyin China but Dalian is currently the scene of a small cluster of fresh cases, putting Chinese football officials on edge.
The Chinese Football Association and CSL are taking no risks with the new season, which wassupposed to begin in Februarybut became one of the earliest sporting victims of the health crisis.
The 16 CSL teams have been divided into two groups, in Suzhou and Dalian, and players must spend the first two months living in sealed-off hotels.
The likes of Evergrande’s Brazilian international Paulinho and the formerManchester UnitedmidfielderMarouane Fellainiwill see only their hotel, training pitches and stadiums.
They arenot allowed to meet their familiesand will be tested for coronavirus once a week.
The 32-year-old Belgian Fellaini is the only known coronavirus case in the CSL and spent three weeks in hospital before his release in April. He was not seriously ill.
Domestic sport is slowly resuming in China, with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league set to welcome fans back into matches from Sunday.
However, the Chinese government has ruled out staging most international competitions this year tostop the spread of coronavirus.
On Friday, all top-level tennis tournaments pencilled in for 2020 in China were cancelled, including the WTA Finals and Shanghai Masters.