Chinese spikers in masks kick up a storm

Wan Lixin
Pictures of the Chinese volleyball players playing with masks kicked up a storm, with many questioning the reasoning behind it and the dangers associated with it.
Wan Lixin

Pictures of the Chinese women's volleyball players wearing N95 masks in a game on Thursday sparked outrage, not because of the result – they did win – but because they played the first set with their mouths tightly sealed in N95 masks.

Their opponent, Iran, meanwhile, played with an unlimited supply of oxygen.

When I broached the subject with my adolescent son, his first reaction was one of disbelief: "Are they really in a game?"

That was the group stage match at this year's Asian Cup. He then concluded that whoever gave this mask mandate must have had no sports experience.

This, strangely, appeared to be partially corroborated by a mea culpa statement from the relevant authority, albeit with liberal allowance for extenuating circumstances.

Experts warn that vigorous exercise while wearing masks can be dangerous.

This is not alarmist talk when you realize that some people are susceptible to comas or collapse after wearing the N95 for an extended period of time.

Fortunately, after losing the first set, they removed their masks and won the next three sets.

Following the uproar in cyberspace, with some questioning the team leaders' sense and sensibility, the Chinese Volleyball Association responded at 3:55am on August 26 that "we are deeply thankful to popular concern for the women's volleyball team, and would like to express our sincere apologies for the puzzlement we have caused resulting from the deficiency in meticulousness in our work."

The apology went on to suggest that "since there have been known cases of infections among participating teams, and with sporadic cases showing symptoms of infection already emerging in our own team, to minimize the risk of contagion, and from the perspective of protecting our players' health, it is required that the players wear masks while entering the stadium."

Then a series of errors occurred.

"Because the organizing committee did not specify whether participants should wear masks while playing the games, our players began playing with masks on for self-protection."

"Due to our lack of on-site playing experience, we failed to remind the players to remove their masks before the games began, causing our players to play the first set with masks on."

Given how far professional players will go to win a game, it's perplexing that they'd choose to wear masks. Especially one that is notorious for being resistant to natural breathing.

Even if the players had shown a unanimous preference for the respirator, it is inconceivable that the team leader could have failed to intervene immediately after the game began.

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