Top Chinese Basketball League Faces Major Challenges Amid Coronavirus Crisis

A CBA game between Beijing Shougang Ducks and Qingdao Eagles in Cadillac arena on November 10, 2019 (source: shutterstock)

China continues to suffer from COVID-19, with cases throughout the country. With the number of infected individuals and death tolls rising on a daily basis, the latest COVID-19 virus issues have led to mass quarantines, causing major disruptions to the country’s economic and social activities.

Among the many affected events, the Chinese professional basketball league is one of the major sports being disrupted. The Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) league was suspended indefinitely until further notice. According to the latest updates from the leagues’ officials, the top-level Chinese basketball league is not expected to resume until April 1st.

The unexpected league suspension has created many uncertainties for players who were expecting the regular season to conclude in March. For players currently in the CBA who might potentially return to the NBA, the current dilemma creates an even murkier situation. Former Toronto Raptors player, NBA champion Jeremy Lin stated in his instagram that he is on standby while training to prepare for the season to resume: “The CBA season’s been postponed indefinitely and I’m on standby, training and staying ready if the season resumes.” said Lin on his Instagram. “Today isn’t guaranteed. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Nothing in life is guaranteed. Live life to the fullest, pursue the best version of yourself. “ Lin is currently back in the United States, while waiting to see if how the upcoming CBA season will shake out.

The disruption of the Chinese league also affected other players with commitments for their respective national teams. Canadian basketball player Andrew Nicholson was able to play in the FIBA AmeriCup 2021 qualifiers because of the suspension of the Chinese league. Nicholson spent five seasons in the NBA, and has played for three different teams in his five-year NBA career. The Mississauga native now plays for the Fujian Sturgeons in the Chinese league.

The Chinese basketball league is not the only suspended professional sports league in China. The country’s top football competition, the Chinese Super League, also announced its indefinite suspension in late January. According to officials from the Chinese Football Association, the league is not expected to commence until April. For Chinese football clubs that qualified for the AFC champions league, their respective home games in the group stages are all postponed to later dates amid the coronavirus crisis.

The CBA was scheduled to finish the regular season in March, while the CBA Finals were scheduled in late April. As the league was suspended in the middle of the season, the CBA management now faces several big decisions to determine the future of the 2019-20 season.

A postponed CBA league will likely conflict with the FIBA qualification tournament in June. As China fell short in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, the Chinese team will need to participate in the FIBA qualification tournament in Canada to fight for one of the final spots to be part of the summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The original CBA schedule would offer Chinese national team players approximately one month to practice and rest for perhaps the most important games for China in 2020. However, in the case that the Chinese league may not return until April, the scheduling of the games may hurt China’s chance to deliver its best performance in the FIBA qualification games. The original plan for the Chinese Basketball Association was to have a prepared national team that should be in their best shape in June. However, with the sudden changes due to coronavirus, everything has changed.

The Chinese basketball league would face the hard choice between cutting the league short with fewer games, or continuing to play on into the summer. The league officials may act similarly to the NBA during the lockout season in 2011 by scheduling games more frequently in the limited time available. However, those arrangements might create more burden for league officials, coaches, and players. Players will also have a higher likelihood of fatigue and injuries if a condensed schedule is adopted.

The CBA league also faces issues with labor relations and player management. As the future of the league remains uncertain with no specific date of returning, players are looking at options to terminate their contracts with the teams to seek other opportunities elsewhere. The CBA league decided to ease its restrictions on the number of foreign players to accommodate these challenges. But for teams that could experience major changes in their rosters, their performances in the remainder of the season will definitely be different.

Compared to the issues that the CBA faced during the 2003 SARS crisis, the modern day COVID-19 crisis caused more damage. Over the 17-year time span, the CBA league is more connected, with more commercial activities, sponsorships, and fans engagements. The indefinite suspension of the league means a halt for a team’s revenues, media attention, and more importantly, business confidence. The league could also lose sponsors because of the affected investment returns, and for a league in the middle of transitioning to a commercially viable approach, the sudden shutdown caused by COVID-19 has created a huge challenge for the league officials and the CBA.