National diving championships held with crowds flooding in
Audiences return to sports venues after COVID-19 adjustments
Published: Mar 19, 2023 11:45 PM
Photo: Chen Xia

Photo: Chen Xia

In just two seconds, Chinese divers Quan Hongchan and Chen Yuxi somersault into the water, hitting the surface with barely a splash at the exact same moment. There are loud cheers and applause as they bow in thanks to the spectators, whom the two divers had seldom seen at the venue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was a women's diving synchronized 10-meter platform match held on Sunday. Quan and Chen, both Tokyo Olympic champions, won gold by a wide margin.

"[We] can still do better," the two modest champions told media after the match.

The match raised the curtain of the ­China Diving National Championships 2023 in Shanghai. The championships, which are set to end on Saturday, serve as the qualifications for the Paris Olympic Games 2024, Fukuoka World Aquatics Championships 2023, the Hangzhou Asian Games and the Chengdu World University Games. 

As the first-ever diving event for selecting candidates for the four competitions, the championships are of great significance, said Zhou Jihong, manager of the Chinese diving team. "It gathers top Chinese divers, including six Olympic champions and 13 world champions." 

The dream team attracted lots of spectators. On Sunday, the stadium was flooded by audiences, many of whom passionately waved red inflatable "cheer sticks" after ­every dive.

"I was excited from the moment I stepped into the stadium; I haven't attended a sports event for quite a long time," one member of the audience surnamed Jia told the Global Times. 

"Since the pandemic ended, I'm glad that I can now enjoy the wonderful moments of sitting in the stands and cheering for my favorite divers."

As one of the first sporting events in China to welcome in-person audiences, the diving championships have been very popular among Shanghai residents. Almost all the tickets for the event had sold out by Saturday, according to the championships' ticketing website.

Some of the champions' matches were fully booked "within hours," according to the event organizers.

The championships' popularity has not come as a surprise to industry insiders. Diving is elegant; it is a typical spectator sport worthy of watching offline, said sports industry specialist Li Hai, dean of the School of Economics and Management at Shanghai University of Sport. 

More importantly, an increasing number of sports lovers are eager to heading back to stadiums with the end of the ­COVID-19 pandemic, Li noted.

"The pandemic gave birth to online events, but the charm of sports competitions mainly exists in 'offline' occasions," Li told the Global Times. 

"Face-to-face communication and in-person experiences are irreplaceable."

Since China optimized its pandemic policy, many sports events nationwide have started to embrace audiences once again. The Chinese Basketball Association has readopted a home-and-away format since the beginning of March, and the Chinese Super League also announced it would allow people to attend matches starting from mid-April.

2023 will be a promising year for the sports industry, say observers. 

"Many companies and associations engaged in sporting events, after suffering losses from the pandemic, are ready to roll up their sleeves this year," Li said.

Li predicts a big rebound in the development of in-person sporting events in 2023.

 "I'm fully confident we will see the competition and performance industry flourish this year," he said.