TAIPEI (Reuters) – The baseball and soccer seasons got underway behind closed doors in Taiwan at the weekend, providing rare live action for fans at home at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down most professional sport around the globe.
Taiwan has been comparatively successful in containing the spread of the virus, reporting to date 388 cases and six deaths in a population of around 24 million.
Globally, more than 110,000 people have died from the virus.
The Chinese Professional Baseball League’s much delayed start was pushed back by a further 24 hours after rain swept across the island, forcing the postponement of the traditional season-opener on Saturday.
It therefore fell to Cuban lefthander Ariel Miranda, formerly of the Seattle Mariners, to throw the first pitch of the season for the Chinatrust Brothers against the Uni-President Lions at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium on Sunday.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen posted a picture on her Facebook page on Sunday of her watching the baseball match at home, accompanied by one of her cats, and calling on everyone else to join her and watch from home.
“What’s more important is once the epidemic is over, we’ll see each other at the baseball pitch!” she wrote.
No fans were allowed in the 20,000-seater stadium to watch the Lions win 4-1, with health concerns limiting attendees to a total of 200 players, coaches, umpires, cheerleaders and journalists, local media reported.
Rakuten Monkeys had placed cardboard cut-outs of fans replete with face masks in the stands for the washed-out game on Saturday, while anyone entering the baseball stadiums had their temperatures checked.
The fourth season of the Taiwan Football Premier League also got underway on Sunday with Tapei-based champions Tatung City FC 3-2 losing to their rivals from the southern city of Kaohsiung, Taipower, on the opening day.
Tatung have won the championship in all three seasons of the Taiwan Football Premier League, which runs from April to October, with Taipower runners-up each year.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard, writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford