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2018 Fifa World Cup Asian qualifying

Hong Kong soccer fans told not to turn crucial World Cup game against China into a political football

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 September, 2015, 3:37am
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 6:03pm

Hong Kong soccer fans have been warned they risk scoring an own goal if they turn tonight's crunch World Cup qualifier against China into a political football - with those who do anything deemed to "endanger national security" facing being locked up for nine days.

The warning came from Shenzhen authorities ahead of tonight's big game at the city's Baoan Stadium, which 2,200 Hong Kong fans are set to attend.

The timing is sensitive, as it falls on the day the nation marks the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender in the second world war with a military parade in Beijing.

It also comes after Hong Kong supporters jeered the national anthem during the first two qualifiers at Mong Kok Stadium, as soccer became the latest point of discord between city and nation and an outlet for Honkongers to vent their grievances against mainlanders and Beijing.

At least 1,000 police officers will be on duty tonight, and the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau yesterday issued a "gentle reminder" that fans who failed to behave could be warned, punished with a fine of up 200 yuan (HK$240) or detained. They could be held for a period "longer than five days but shorter than 10 days" and fined up to 500 yuan.

Fans could get into trouble, the bureau said, if they showed disrespect to the national anthem or flag, or if they wore clothes or displayed banners or flags deemed to "endanger national security". All fans will have to present their identity documents to get into the stadium.

But Hong Kong fans yesterday went online to cry foul over the restrictions and insisted China fans in the crowd of 27,000 must be subjected to the same rules. But commenters with tickets seemed most concerned about getting out in case of trouble.

Edmond Fung Siu-man, of fans group The Power of Hong Kong, will join about 40 other group members at the game.

"Our aim is to support the Hong Kong team and nothing else," he said. "There should not be any problem."

The booing at earlier games against Bhutan and the Maldives also earned Hong Kong a rebuke from world soccer's governing body Fifa, and Hong Kong captain Chan Wai-ho also urged calm, saying: "Sport and politics should be separated."

Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung