Chinese Olympic delegation receives a warm welcome in Hong Kong – without politics

Medal winners fresh from Rio launch a charm offensive while brushing aside questions on Hong Kong’s relations with Beijing

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 27 August, 2016, 11:28pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 August, 2016, 8:29am

Hong Kong welcomed China’s Olympic medallists with plenty of warmth and fanfare on Saturday as the visiting national squad, fresh from the Rio Games, launched their own charm offensive in the city.

Concerns about anti-mainland sentiment and political protests by radical localists were brushed aside, with one hugely popular national athlete declaring the two sides were “one family, bonded by flesh and blood”.

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The 64-strong delegation started its three-day visit on a positive note, against a backdrop of political tension and contentious debate on the issue of independence as the city heads into its most critical elections since it returned to China.

Those issues were raised at a press conference where the athletes were asked to comment on the strained ties between the city and the mainland in recent years.

Sun Yang, the swimmer who won gold in the men’s 200m freestyle, suggested it was only the “opinion of a small number of people” that relations were bad.

“I love Hong Kong very much and I love Hong Kong athletes very much. I won’t say too much about this,” Sun said.

“The relationship between China and Hong Kong has always been good; there is no conflict in the way the media has suggested.”

The 24-year-old swimmer said he would “face anything that happens with a smile”.

Bronze-medallist Fu Yuanhui, the swimmer who shot to fame at the Rio Games with her instantly likeable “funny girl” image and antics on camera, was loving the welcome.

“[Hong Kong and China] are one family, bonded by flesh and blood, and brothers and sisters. There is no reason to divide them ,” Fu said, making one of her trademark faces.

Liu Peng, director of the State General Administration of Sports and head of the delegation, did not reply when asked if the reception this time was less enthusiastic than previous ones. “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.

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Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told the delegation that Hongkongers and the national athletes were “bonded by blood” and Hong Kong hoped to work with the mainland to ­develop sports in the city.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said Hongkongers would cheer for their own athletes but also take pride in the national squad’s victories.

Security was tight at the five-star hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui where the athletes were staying and which has become a magnet for fans waiting for a glimpse of their idols.

Additional reporting by Naomi Ng