China TV censoring World Cup fans footage amid zero-Covid protests

Croatia fans celebrate their victory over Canada - Paul Childs/Reuters
Croatia fans celebrate their victory over Canada - Paul Childs/Reuters

Chinese state television has been censoring World Cup footage of maskless crowds in an apparent attempt to control dissent against the nation's zero-Covid policies.

Hundreds of millions remain under strict pandemic restrictions and TV viewers in Beijing have noticed they are not seeing the same football coverage as other nations.

All broadcasters receive the exact same choice of camera angles from Fifa, but it appears China has been removing scenes of joyous fans.

Author Mark Dreyer, who wrote 'Sporting Superpower: An Insider's View on China's Quest to Be the Best', posted footage showing how coverage differed than it does from the BBC.

"Some people still refusing to see this, so decided to track it," he tweeted. "Within a minute, there was this: close-up shots of Canadian and Croatian fans on BBC/international feed, replaced by a solo shot of Canadian coach John Herdman on CCTV."

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Fifa has declined to comment when contacted by Telegraph Sport but this is the second time a state has apparently interfered with official feeds. Telegraph Sport revealed last week how Qatar was in desperate talks with Saudi Arabia after a platform for BeIN Sports was blocked in an apparent power play.

The China censorship of crowd shots  comes after social media users complained that busy crowd scenes at the tournament opening ceremony contrasted with the severe isolation they felt under President Xi Jinping’s polcy.

The official Global Times newspaper wrote some fans were “choosing to watch the games at home with their families” due to Covid restrictions.

Dreyer, who also runs the China Sports Insider blog, had first noticed that games broadcast on state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) were being edited to show close-ups of players or coaches.

“Of course, there are going to be times when you still see crowd shots – wider shots, after some goals when a cutaway shot would be too jarring etc,” Dreyer tweeted. “But there is clear reduction.”

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Covid case numbers have hit record highs in China, prompting yet more lockdowns in cities across the country. But hundreds took to the streets of major cities over the weekend as anger at the government's policies boiled over into demands for regime change.

"Down with the Chinese Communist Party! Down with Xi Jinping," protesters chanted on the streets of Shanghai in the most direct challenge to Beijing since the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

In Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, large crowds pulled down metal barriers meant to keep neighbourhoods in quarantine.

About 300 people were surrounded by police in Beijing as they chanted "We are with Xinjiang", a reference to a deadly fire in the region where Covid lockdowns allegedly hampered rescue efforts.