Sport meets politics: visiting Olympians see ‘no reason’ for divide between Hong Kong and China
Visiting mainland medallists say they have not been the target of anti-mainland sentiment
China’s Olympic medallists and sports officials have shrugged off the issue of anti-mainland sentiments in Hong Kong and said they felt nothing but a warm welcome in the city on Saturday.
Swimmer Sun Yang, the first Chinese swimmer to win the men’s 200m freestyle gold medal, said he did not feel that he was unwelcome by Hongkongers due to his controversial comments of calling himself “The King” in the 1,500m freestyle.
“I love Hong Kong very much and I love Hong Kong athletes very much. I will not say too much about this.
“The relationship of China and Hong Kong has always been good, there was no conflict as the way the media has suggested. Our relationships should not be affected by the opinions of a small number of people,” Sun said in reply to a question during a press conference on Saturday afternoon.
The 24 year old added he would “face anything that happened with a smile” in Hong Kong if he experienced any unwelcoming behaviour.
The outspoken swimmer was also asked about the tension between him and rival Australian swimmer Mark Horton, who called the Chinese superstar a “drug cheat”. Following the athletes’ remarks, China and Australia also became embroiled in a spat, with mainland state-run media blasting Horton’s homeland as a former “offshore prison”.
“It is normal for unfriendly behaviour to take place during the race. Some countries may feel threatened by China as it is growing strong. They would use some ways to damage the morale of Chinese athletes, and this is not very good behaviour,” Sun said.
Swimmer Fu Yuanhui, who won a bronze medal and who has shot to fame with her charming post-race interviews, said she was happy to be so popular in the city.
“[Hong Kong and China] are bonded by flesh and blood, and there is no reason to divide between them. Thank you everyone,” Fu said with a grimace. She has been dubbed as the “funny girl” due to her frank and over-the-top facial expressions.
Liu Peng, director of the State General Administration of Sports, rejected the suggestion that Hongkongers give a cold shoulder to the national athletes and were less supportive towards the China team during the Olympics, amid a growing anti-mainland sentiments.
He did not reply when asked if the delegation faced less enthusiastic fans when visiting Hong Kong in past visits.
“Before I come here, I heard that all the tickets [on offer to the public] were already sold out. I am deeply touched by the enthusiasm of Hong Kong people,” he said.
The host of the conference cut short a reporter’s question on how the athletes felt about the political environment in Hong Kong.
“Politics has nothing to do with sports. We need politics to go away,” she said, declining to let the athletes reply.
Say that they were short on time, she also refused to let badminton star Lin Dan answer whether he felt the support from Hongkongers was less enthusiastic compared with his last visit in 2012, when he won a gold medal.
There had been worries that localists would take the opportunity to protest and express their anti-mainland views, but they apparently gave the cold shoulder to the athletes’ arrival, deciding to focus on their campaigns for the election instead. No protests were held at the airport or the hotel where the athletes are staying.