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A-list athletes not safe from harm

By SHI FUTIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-03-23 09:28
Soccer stars Wu Lei and Paulo Dybala (bottom right) and the NBA's Kevin Durant are among the highest-profile athletes to test positive for COVID-19. Team China and Espanyol striker Wu on Saturday said he is recovering from the infection with his family at their Spanish home. GETTY IMAGES/AP/USA TODAY SPORTS

Coronavirus not sparing sports' biggest names as Wu Lei added to infected list

From NBA icon Kevin Durant to Chinese soccer international Wu Lei, the number of global sports stars being infected by COVID-19 continues to grow.

Thankfully, the athletes in question have so far displayed only mild symptoms or none at all. Fans, though, have begun to wonder if their sporting idols are more at risk from the virus than most, or if it could impact, or even end, their careers.

In general, medical experts expect a positive prognosis for sports stars.

"The majority of the infected athletes are young," Zhao Weiguo, a professor and expert in respiratory diseases at Chinese PLA General Hospital told new media platform SportBank.

"Most of the confirmed cases that suffered from heavy symptoms are people over 60 years old. The proportion of young people who have heavy symptoms is very low. It depends on the condition of an athlete's lungs. If his or her body has a positive reaction towards treatment, the athlete's career won't be affected.

"If the condition is heavy and the lungs recover slowly, the athlete will take a longer time to return. After evaluating the lungs, athletes can gradually start adaptive training."

Shandong Luneng's Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini, formerly of Manchester United, was on Sunday announced as the first Chinese Super League player to test positive for the virus.

Last Friday, the Chinese Fencing Association revealed that three of its athletes, who had been competing in Europe, were infected. It was the first time that confirmed cases were reported from a Chinese national team.

Sports fans' anxiety levels were raised again when the Chinese Football Association confirmed Wu's infection. The news shocked the Chinese soccer community, with related topics viewed over 570 million times within half a day on Weibo.

The 28-year-old Espanyol striker is so far the only Chinese international to test positive.

On Saturday, Wu attempted to reassure fans he is fine in a video posted on Weibo.

"As you all know, I indeed have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and I'm self-quarantined at home," said a smiling Wu in a clear voice. "I'm in great condition now and all the symptoms have basically gone.

"I have run a series of tests on my lungs, including a CT scan, and the result turned out to be good. I really want to thank you all for your support and blessings.

"In the meantime, I hope all of you can pay special attention to the coronavirus. We still haven't completely beat the virus.

"Keep washing your hands and stay indoors. I believe we can win the battle against the coronavirus eventually. And I can't wait to return to the pitch."

Chinese outlet Red Star News reported that Wu had displayed typical coronavirus symptoms, including coughing, fever and chest pains. However, they were deemed mild enough for him not be hospitalized and remain quarantined at home with his family in Barcelona.

"I'll spend more time with my children and record their childhood. This is simply life, but never boring," said Wu in a blog post last week, accompanied by a video of him rolling around on the floor playing with his kids.

Risky business

It makes sense that professional athletes have stronger bodies and immune systems than most. However, pushing themselves to their physical limits can sometimes increase their vulnerability to virus infections.

"Intensive training and competition puts athletes' bodies under huge stress," Zhang Yimin, a professor at Beijing Sport University, was quoted by

"According to research, doing intensive sports for a prolonged period reduces people's immunity, which significantly increases the risk of being infected."

Competing in teams can, of course, aid the spread of the virus, particularly in contact sports, while locker-room interaction is also a risk factor.

Wu's club Espanyol is a case in point, with six players and staff at the La Liga club testing positive for the coronavirus. Like all major European soccer leagues, La Liga is suspended due to the pandemic.

The soccer world, however, is remaining resilient, reckons former China international Sun Jihai, who expects Wu to bounce back in style if and when the action does resume in Spain.

"This is a tough moment for Wu Lei. There can always be difficulties on your journey in a foreign league," former Manchester City defender Sun wrote on Weibo.

"You have to believe in yourself and get well as soon as possible. When the epidemic ends and La Liga restarts, you will soar again on the pitch.

"This is a tough moment for Europe. I want to send my best wishes to all my old friends of Manchester City and all the people who have suffered from the pandemic. Take care and be safe."

The Asian Football Confederation expressed its support for Wu, saying on Weibo: "Be patient and stay strong. We all stand behind you!"

Wu's former club Shanghai SIPG also sent best wishes to the man whose goals helped it lift the 2018 CSL crown.

"It's such a relief for us to see you're in good condition in the video," read the club's social media post. "Do take good care yourself and follow your doctor's treatment. We will provide you with all the help. SIPG will always be your home!"

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