China censors maskless fans in World Cup broadcasts

BEIJING, 29 Nov 2022:

China’s state television has edited footage of Qatar 2022 World Cup matches to remove shots of maskless fans, after broadcasts of packed stadiums with crowds enjoying the games amid no Covid-19 measures fuelled protests across the Asian nation.

This measure, which has not been officially confirmed by China Central Television, was taken after citizens took to social networks to discuss the fact that fans in Qatar seemed to be facing no pandemic restrictions while Beijing remains steadfast with its stringent zero Covid strategy.

Instead of showing live footage of cheering crowds, CCTV5 – the sports channel of the Chinese broadcaster – replaced the shots with close-ups of players and coaches.

Such a move to edit footage of World Cup crowds deprived Chinese viewers the repeats of goals, as happened after Brazilian Casemiro’s goal yesterday against Switzerland.

The sudden edits are easily spotted because the shots that are cut in do not include the scoreboard that international broadcasts of the matches all contain.

Edited footage of matches was also witnessed in matches broadcast online on Migu, the only other provider of World Cup matches in China.

As the World Cup kicked off on November 20, netizens flooded Weibo – Beijing’s answer to Twitter – with hundreds of screenshots of the first matches. These were broadcast without censorship – highlighting the fact fans abroad seemed to enjoy total freedom while China continued with its zero Covid policy.

It was users of the same social media platform that flagged the odd nature of more recent broadcasts under the topic “CCTV broadcasts the World Cup cutting out viewers without masks”.

The topic has been trending today and gathered over 24.5 million views, despite not appearing on the list of hot topics of the day.

“As a fan for many years, we all know that you will see the fans in the stands after a goal is scored. How come after five goals we only saw the coaches’ shots?! Do they think we are stupid??!” one Weibo account asked towards the end of South Korea’s match against Ghana.

Many netizens are taking advantage of the trending topic on Weibo to share opinions about Beijing’s zero Covid-19 policy.

The backlash comes at a time of unrest in China, with Covid-19 cases hitting record highs amid the fatigue of citizens with the government’s stringent approach to containing infections.

Reports in recent days have surfaced of anti-pandemic protests in major Chinese cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou and the capital.