China's volleyball association apologised on Friday for failing to tell its women's team to remove their face masks for an Asian Cup match in the Philippines.
The team lost the opening set of Thursday's match against Iran while wearing the masks but went on to win 3-1, finishing top of their group and moving into the quarter-finals.
Some players began to remove their masks just before the end of the first set in Pasig City, an AFP journalist said, and by the second and third sets all were playing without them.
China face Australia on Saturday in the last eight.
Users on Chinese social media expressed concern for the players' health and blasted their mask-wearing as "crazy".
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"I thought this was a meme, I didn't think they would really play with masks on!" read one comment on the Twitter-like Weibo platform with over 5,000 likes.
China is the only major global economy sticking to a zero-Covid policy, where lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing remain commonplace in everyday life, along with masks.
The China Volleyball Association apologised on its Weibo page for "causing widespread concern in society".
It said that the team had made all players wear masks while entering the stadium after learning that other players had Covid.
"Since the organising committee did not have clear regulations on whether athletes should wear masks during the match, our athletes wore masks after the start of the match to protect themselves," the association wrote.
"Due to our lack of experience on the field, we did not remind the players to take off their masks in time."The Chinese women's volleyball team is among the best in the world and became a sporting sensation as well as role models for Chinese women after winning gold in the 2019 World Cup.