Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA)

Given the disgraceful booing at Hong Kong football matches, we can’t wait any longer for a national anthem law

Tony Kwok says it will take too long for the legislature to debate and pass a national anthem law, and the National People’s Congress should step in. In the meantime, a blacklist should be drawn up of offenders who shame Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 October, 2017, 11:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 October, 2017, 6:37pm

Since the June 2015 World Cup qualifying match when Hong Kong played host to Bhutan, there have been 14 matches in a row where a small group of fans have jeered the national anthem before kick-off.

As a result, the Hong Kong Football Association has been fined twice by Fifa for failing to control crowd behaviour.

Despite the punishment, this disgraceful act was repeated on October 5, during Hong Kong’s friendly against Laos at Mong Kok Stadium.

After the match, and ahead of the important Asian Cup qualifier against Malaysia on October 10, the HKFA issued a stern warning that the punishment may well be to have to play international matches behind closed doors.

We will not skip national anthem, says Hong Kong soccer chief as patience wears out with boo boys

However, such warnings fell on deaf ears; according to media reports, a group of youngsters in the East Stand not only booed the national anthem, but some also turned their backs, while others raised a large banner calling for Hong Kong independence.

Their actions were clearly well organised and rehearsed, but there will be grave ramifications, for two reasons.

First, these latest events took place after the National People’s Congress passed a national anthem law in early September, stating offenders are liable to 15 days’ imprisonment. Thus, Hong Kong youngsters’ actions must clearly be intolerable in the eyes of 1.3 billion mainland citizens.

Second, the incidents occurred after President Xi Jinping made it clear in his July 1 speech in Hong Kong, that a line must not be crossed, and that any pro-independence action would be dealt with severely. Clearly, this crowd of youngsters was trying to give a “so what?” message to challenge the central government.

Hong Kong football fans boo their national anthem

Some legislators are calling for prompt action, through the drafting of a national anthem law for Hong Kong. In my view, such a process would be too slow. Opposition parties in the Legislative Council would be likely to object and filibuster, making it unlikely the law could be passed within six months. In the meantime, pro-independence groups will take every opportunity at public events to continue their humiliating ways when the national anthem is played, and also to promote their agenda.

One quick way to stop this is for the Basic Law Consultative Committee, together with the Department of Justice, to draft the Hong Kong version of the national law, and ensure it is promulgated directly by the National People’s Congress to become law here immediately.

Hong Kong soccer fans vow to defy new Chinese law on national anthem

In the meantime, the HKFA must demonstrate to Fifa that it is taking positive steps to deal with the problem; advice and verbal warnings to the crowd are not enough. Instead, they should draw lessons from the England Football Association, which in the 1980s had to deal with hooligans during international matches at home or in Europe. To combat this, they compiled a blacklist and these “fans” were banned from entering stadiums and travelling to European countries where international matches involving England were played. The problem has now been resolved.

To assist the HKFA in drawing up a similar blacklist, a social media or website could be set up, to encourage genuine football fans to report disgraceful behaviour. It is in the interest of genuine football fans to avoid punishment by the football authorities; no one wants to see closed-door matches in the future. Such a website would also be a strong deterrent for these young people, as they know they would be identified and this may have a major effect on their future education and career prospects.

Tony Kwok is an adjunct professor at HKU Space and council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macau Studies