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Final airing for anthem at Games ceremony

WHILE God Save The Queen was played for the final time at an Asian Games athletes' village, Hong Kong competitors, some still uncertain about their future identity, were officially welcomed to Hiroshima yesterday.

With the bulk of the squad absent after being stranded in Kagoshima on Thursday, about 30 Hong Kong athletes and officials, representing soccer, gymnastics, tenpin bowling, wushu and yachting, stood to attention as the colonial flag was hoisted.

Hong Kong chef de mission Pang Chung ignored politics and doubts about the territory's future sporting independence after 1997 in his address to the village Mayor Masayuki Sano.

Instead, he praised the city of Hiroshima, devastated by the atomic bomb in 1945, in its endeavour to promote peace and harmony.

'Hiroshima was destroyed about half a century ago and it has now risen to become a modern city, symbolising that the pursuit of peace through sport and participation in sport will deepen understanding and friendship,' Mr Pang said.

'It is our biggest honour to be invited to take part in the 12th Asian Games.' Hong Kong is the only remaining British territory in the 44-strong Asian Games family, a fact lost on some observers.

One Indian official, watching the proceedings, was taken aback when the Hong Kong National Olympic Committee anthem was being played.

'Is that God Save The Queen? ' he asked.

It certainly was, and unless Hong Kong win gold at this Games, he is unlikely to hear it again at any Asian Games.

Indeed, questions remain if any Hong Kong anthem will be played at future Asiads.

China has guaranteed Hong Kong sporting independence after the territory reverts to Chinese rule in 1997.

But the territory's National Olympic Committee has yet to gain clearance from the International Olympic Committee, the body which would ultimately ratify or reject Hong Kong's sporting autonomy.

Bangkok will host the next Asian Games in 1988. Before that Hong Kong will compete in its final Olympics under British rule in Atlanta in 1996.