Hong Kong soccer fans jeer national anthem despite tough new mainland laws
Heavy police presence seemingly had little effect as many fans booed and swore during anthem before friendly match against Bahrain on Thursday
Hardcore Hong Kong soccer fans booed and swore when the national anthem was played at the start of a friendly match against Bahrain on Thursday, openly displaying their contempt after China’s top legislature set the stage for the city to make such behaviour punishable by law.
Ignoring a heavy police presence, a small group of fans jeered as the familiar strains of March of the Volunteers rang out across Mong Kok Stadium, and some turned their backs to the pitch.
“I don’t care [about the law],” said an 18-year-old fan who was among the hecklers. “So what? There are thousands of people at the stadium, how will they find me and arrest me?”
“I don’t think the anthem represents Hong Kong,” said another spectator who had brought his five-year-old son to the game. “I don’t care if they arrest me. I just do what I think is right. I will continue to boo. If they have guts, they can arrest all of us.”
The match was closely watched as it was the first in the city after the National People’s Congress Standing Committee last weekend incorporated the mainland’s newly toughened National Anthem law into Annexe 3 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
The Hong Kong government is now required to come up with local legislation to prevent abuse of the anthem, which is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment on the mainland.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor assured the public on Tuesday that the impending legislation would only seek to punish those who deliberately disrespected the anthem, and that there was no need to worry about breaking the law accidentally.
On Thursday night, plain-clothes police officers could be seen around the stadium an hour before the match started, taking Hong Kong Football Association chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak by surprise.
“We were not informed about [police] action,” he said. “But the situation seemed to be under control. We did not hear too much of booing when the national anthem was played and we do hope the fans continue to come to support the Hong Kong team. This should be their primarily objective.”
A police source said more officers had been deployed to prevent any potential trouble. “There are some pro-China supporters as well, and the aim is to mitigate any risk or breach of peace,” he said.
At 8pm, as the anthem was played before the start of the game, local fans wearing red stood together on the North Stand and booed as they brought out a giant Hong Kong flag. One raised a middle finger while some swore out loud.
After the anthem, they started to cheer on the local squad team, banging drums and shouting, “We are Hong Kong!”
The crowd was more than 2,400-strong in the 6,600-seat stadium, with the loudest cheering fans gathered on the North Stand.
Around two dozen spectators, wearing red and holding both the national and Hong Kong flags, sat by themselves on the East Stand. It marked the first time the Chinese flag was seen at a home game that was not being played against the national squad.
Fans were made to undergo a security check when entering the stadium. No water bottles were allowed inside, and banners had to approved first.
Last month, the HKFA was given a stern warning by the Asian Football Confederation after being held responsible for fans’ behaviour – they booed the national anthem during the Asian Cup qualifying match against Malaysia on October 10.
Lam said on Tuesday that she would aim to introduce an anthem bill at the Legislative Council within its current term, or before next July.