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Anti-mainland sentiments

This Hong Kong soccer match is set to be first major test for China’s new ‘respect the national anthem’ law

International friendly against Laos on Thursday takes place at Mong Kok Stadium, the scene of booing in the past

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 1:49pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 October, 2017, 10:49pm

China’s newly passed national anthem law will be put to the test in Hong Kong as the city takes on Laos in an international friendly at Mong Kok Stadium on Thursday.

Hong Kong are preparing for next Tuesday’s crucial 2019 Asian Cup qualifier against Malaysia – but more attention will be focused on the fans’ behaviour than the action on the pitch.

In recent years, a section of the team’s fans have regularly booed China’s national anthem before games in protest.

Last month China passed a law declaring disrespect for the anthem illegal.

The National People’s Congress stated “attendees at events where the anthem is played are required to stand up straight and remain solemn for the song under the law”.

As China bans national anthem ‘disrespect’, how will Hong Kong football fans react in match just before key Communist Party meeting?

While offenders in mainland China are liable to 15 days in police detention, Hong Kong citizens will not be affected immediately as the law has yet to be incorporated into local legislation.

The match against Laos is the first international soccer game in Hong Kong in which national anthems will be played beforehand since the law was adopted by the mainland.

Last month some Hong Kong fans vowed to defy the law.

But the Hong Kong Football Association said it was treating the match as “business as usual”, according to its chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak.

“We won’t put up any extra security measures for the match nor make any public appeal to the fans, it’s just one of those international matches between Hong Kong and another country and we welcome the fans to support Hong Kong,” he said.

“The booing of the national anthem by the fans has been less seen and it’s certainly not a big concern as our focus is on the performance of the Hong Kong team.”

HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe did not divulge details of their security plans, only saying “we will be taking all of the usual precautions”.

The Power of Hong Kong, a key supporters’ group, said it would put the interest of the Hong Kong team first.

“We come to the match to support the Hong Kong team and not boo the national anthem,” said the group’s spokesman.

“We don’t care about the new law as it’s not our business.”

The recent trend of booing the anthem began two years ago in the wake of the Occupy protests and the Hong Kong Football Association was fined twice by Fifa for the fans’ behaviour.

Meanwhile, coach Kim Pan-gon says he will try to give all his players some minutes against Laos as he tries both to prepare for the Asian Cup qualifier and build for the future.

“It is difficult to achieve two aims but this is my responsibility as the national team coach,” he said. “The young players need international exposure to grow but result is also important. We’ll see and hopefully the situation can allow us to do this.”

Homegrown talents such as Wong Wai, Lo Kong-wai, James Ha, Tsui Wang-kit, Tan Chun-lok and Wu Chun-ming are in line to take over the baton, but Kim will rely on his naturalised players to get results in the near future.

Newly selected Jorge Tarres, Daniel Cancela and Fernando Recio, all of whom obtained Hong Kong passports on Tuesday, are set to get their first international caps against Laos.