Soccer is being hijacked as a political tool – and the media are to blame, says HKFA chief Mark Sutcliffe
Hong Kong Football Association chief executive also claims there is an ‘orchestrated anti-booing rent-a-crowd’ attending matches
Hong Kong’s soccer chief has claimed the game is being “hijacked as a political tool in a polarised, fractured society” after the national anthem was again booed this week at a match involving the national team.
In his blog, Mark Sutcliffe blames the media for focusing on the booing at matches instead of reporting on the action on the pitch, and claims there is now an “orchestrated anti-booing rent-a-crowd” attending matches.
“Our beloved game is being hijacked (to the obvious delight of the media) as a political tool by both sides in a polarised, fractured society,” said Sutcliffe, the chief executive of the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA).
“It’s very sad that the action on the pitch is now seen by many as secondary to what is happening off it.”
Sutcliffe said the blanket newspaper coverage of Hong Kong’s Asian Cup qualifier against Lebanon on Tuesday at Hong Kong Stadium, which Lebanon won 1-0, focused on crowd behaviour “which of course just encourages more booing”.
Local soccer fans remained defiant as they jeered the national anthem despite a warning that a new anthem law for the city could be applied retroactively.
In an all-too-familiar sight, hundreds of hard core Hong Kong fans booed and swore during March of the Volunteers.
Despite pleas from the HKFA to respect the national anthem, fans continued to boo for the second straight home match since the anthem law was passed on the mainland.
“I can’t read most of the papers here but the ones I can read have stopped reporting on the football and are solely interested in the crowd behaviour before the match which of course just encourages more booing,” Sutcliffe wrote in his blog.
“It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy, which I am sure the media knows and relishes.”
Sutcliffe also pointed out that one media outlet “had the temerity to broadcast the anthem live on TV from inside the stadium despite the fact that they had no accreditation to do so”.
“They were not the approved broadcaster and should not have been showing a ‘live’ feed. It’s disgusting really that a so-called professional organisation believes it is OK to infringe the regulations so blatantly,” he wrote.
“Please if you’re not bothered about the football, just stay away. The HKFA will wait to see what action is taken against us by the AFC [Asian Football Confederation], for it is us that will be penalised once again.”
The HKFA was fined twice by Fifa in 2015 after the world governing body accused the local organisation of failing to control its crowd behaviour.
It has been warned it faces severe punishment over the booing of the national anthem.
Sutcliffe also said in his blog there had been a trend he calls the “orchestrated anti-booing rent-a-crowd – people are apparently paid to come and oppose those who are booing”.
“I don’t know who these people are or who is paying them but they are clearly not there to watch the football.
“They have no understanding of the game and even less interest. Last night I watched as they sat through the entire Lebanon anthem,” Sutcliffe wrote.
Sutcliffe also said the HKFA could have arranged fewer international games if they wanted to but continued to host matches to give the Hong Kong players experience and “to reward the true fans”.
He said “we will not give up and we will not allow negative interests to win. Football will prevail.”