China's literal take on World Cup fever
- 13 June 2014
The Global Times started it. The headline in the Communist Party controlled newspaper ran: Soccer fever kicks off fake sick notes.
Citing the painful 11-hour time difference between China and Brazil - meaning games kick-off sometime between midnight and 06:00 - the article suggested that opportunistic online wheeler-dealers were offering the fraudulent diagnoses to enable fans to take the day off.
There are certainly a lot of football fans in China.
The national team may be a long-running embarrassment, having only ever qualified for one World Cup, back in 2002, but the passion is still there.
The time difference with South Africa wasn't all that much better than Brazil but China still accounted for the largest single-country audience for the 2010 tournament, with an average of 17.5 million tuning in for each live match.
A veritable peoples' army of genuine football craziness, no doubt. But an army of sick-note slackers and skivers?
China's artistry for fakery has been well documented. Fake bags and watches, fake cars even, are old news. Recent reports uncovered the existence of a fake UN peacekeeping force.
So it is not surprising, and not at all difficult, to find the online services offering bogus medical documentation.
Within minutes we were being asked what ailment we preferred, and from which hospital we would like the diagnosis to be provided.
An hour or so later and our very authentic-looking sick-note was delivered by a man on a moped. Fee charged, roughly $16 (£9).
But is demand for these services really, as the Global Times suggests, soaring as a result of the World Cup?
Our dealer denied it, but we did find another one who suggested that business of late was unusually brisk.
There's a chance though that it might not be down to devious football fans at all, but rather an upsurge of journalists, like me, trying to prove just how easy sick notes are to obtain.
Following a quick scan of the foreign media I'm saddened to report that the Telegraph's man in Shanghai has gone down with a respiratory tract infection, the reporter for US National Public Radio has a bad bout of gastroenteritis (beginning this coming Sunday) and someone in NBC News's China office has been diagnosed with chronic appendicitis.
May they all get well soon.