Don’t boo Chinese national anthem, Hong Kong football authority begs fans while admitting its hands tied
Appeal comes after boos heard for March of the Volunteers at match against Laos on Thursday
Hong Kong’s football authority has appealed to local fans not to boo the Chinese national anthem at a match against Malaysia next week, but admitted it expected some to do so.
The appeal came after boos were heard for March of the Volunteers when the Hong Kong team took on Laos in a friendly at Mong Kok Stadium on Thursday night. The Football Association said the boos had been disrespectful and might lead to penalties for soccer officials.
A block of Hong Kong football fans were seen jeering the anthem before their team trounced the visitors 4-0. Some were even seen raising their middle finger during the anthem.
Hong Kong has seen a rise in anti-mainland sentiment in recent months, with some even calling for the city to break away from Chinese rule.
Vice-chairman of the association Pui Kwan-kay described the catcalls as “stupid” and “meaningless”, but said soccer officials had their hands tied in preventing such episodes.
“I cannot rule out more jeers in the next game as, honestly, there are no measures we can take to stop fans booing,” Pui said.
The crucial Asian Cup qualification match against Malaysia will take place next Tuesday at Hong Kong Stadium.
“Security guards can take away insulting banners from the crowds but can’t stop the boos,” Pui said. “We have appealed to the fans so many times not to do it as it is very disrespectful to the country and to the match. We are here to support the Hong Kong team.”
The recent trend of booing the anthem began two years ago in the wake of Hong Kong’s Occupy pro-democracy protests. The association, which is liable for improper conduct among supporters of its team, has been fined twice by international governing body Fifa for failing to control crowd behaviour.
Pui said local soccer officials could face heavier punishments if a disciplinary committee at the Asian Football Confederation decided to look into the matter.
The confederation, which could not be reached for comment on Friday, was expected to wait for a report from a match commissioner it appointed before deciding on follow-up action.
Early last month the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, passed a national anthem law stating that “attendees at events where the anthem is played are required to stand straight and remain solemn for the song”.
Watch: Hong Kong football fans boo their national anthem
Offenders in mainland China are liable to 15 days in detention, but Hong Kong residents will not be affected until local legislation is passed in line with Hong Kong’s separate legal system.
Hong Kong legislator and City University law professor Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said the boos on Thursday night were an insult and would have been in breach of the law if the city had passed the new legislation.
When asked how local law enforcers could collect evidence in such cases, Leung said: “After insulting the anthem is criminalised, law enforcement agencies will first need to see if the law is repeatedly broken, and whether they have enough equipment to enforce the law efficiently. If they don’t, they will need to review it ... I think they should have enough equipment to do their job.”
Leung compared that situation to police purchasing equipment after drink-driving was made criminal.
Another pro-establishment lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the government should consider installing surveillance cameras at sporting facilities to enforce the law.
Fifa previously fined the association 10,000 Swiss francs (HK$79,900) over boos for the anthem before a home game against the China team in November 2015, and warned that further infringements would lead to harsher sanctions.
Another fine, of 5,000 Swiss francs, was issued in the same year after attendees booed the anthem during a World Cup qualifier against Qatar at home.