Strict COVID-19 measures appear to be taking their toll on Chinese Super League (CLS) players, with one saying his head was “spinning” in the claustrophobic “bubble” — and they still have six weeks to go.
Chinese soccer introduced harsh rules when it launched the CSL season in two biosecure bubbles after a five-month delay because of COVID-19.
The 16 teams disappeared into two sealed-off hotels, one in Suzhou and the other in Dalian, a month ago and are not to leave until the end of next month.
Apart from their hotels, players see only stadiums, where no fans are allowed, and training pitches. They cannot meet their families.
Coaches, support staff, referees and even the hotel workers must also stay in the “Blue” zone. Everyone is tested for COVID-19 once per week.
The restrictive environment is proving difficult for some.
“When I think about being walled in for the next one-and-a-half months, my head is spinning, so I don’t dare think too much,” one player told Soccer News, which last week reported that players had reached “a psychologically critical period.”
An unnamed boss of one club added: “I feel like the players can’t stand it anymore.”
Rafael Benitez, the former Real Madrid manager who is now at Dalian Pro, is trying to make the best of being lumped together with seven other teams under one roof.
The Spaniard has praised China’s response to the pandemic, but yesterday wrote on his blog: “This kind of plan would be impossible in Europe, everyone stuck in a hotel — staff, technical staff and players — for two months, only being allowed out to train and play matches — it’d be unthinkable.”
Conscious that cabin fever could be setting in, officials in Suzhou have arranged a Billiard Masters competition between rival players, the Beijing Youth Daily said.
There are also to be an e-sports tournament and reading club.
“Hard training, fierce competition and long-term separation from relatives and friends require players to relieve their mental fatigue in certain ways,” the newspaper said.
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