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Hundreds of Hong Kong fans booed during March of the Volunteers at Hong Kong Stadium in So Kon Po on Tuesday. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

No let up in Hong Kong soccer fans booing Chinese national anthem

Fans continue to jeer March of the Volunteers despite warnings that the new anthem law for the city could be retroactively applied

Hong Kong soccer fans remained defiant on Tuesday as they jeered the national anthem during team’s match against Lebanon despite a warning that a new anthem law for the city could be applied retroactively.

Hundreds of Hong Kong fans booed and swore during the familiar strains of March of the Volunteers rang out across Hong Kong Stadium in So Kon Po.

Dozens of security guards patrolled the stadium imploring people not to boo during the anthem.

But their pleas fell on deaf ears as the jeering continued for the second straight home match since the anthem law was passed on the mainland. Some fans turned their backs to the pitch and made obscene gestures.

One fan, who turned his back to the pitch when the national anthem rang, said he was not afraid of the new law be cause he thought it was impossible to enforce.

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“I turned my back the last two games. How can the law enforcement catch me?” he said, as the person next to him told him not to talk to the press.

Another fan, a 21-year-old man who identified himself as Yip, booed the anthem while he remained in his seat, saying that it was “not my anthem and does not deserve my respect”.

“The new law and even the chance it could be retroactive won’t stop me from jeering as I have freedom to do so,” Yip said.

Some fans were not pleased with the open display of defiance. Yeung, who brought his 11-year-old daughter to the game, said people should be respectful and set a good example for younger fans like his daughter.

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“But I also disagree with making the law retroactive. This will only divide the society further,” Yeung said.

The match was the last home game for Hong Kong before the government tables a bill on the National Anthem law to the Legislative Council.

The crowd of jeering fans appeared to be about the same size as the group who booed and yelled profanities during the anthem during the team’s match against Bahrain on Thursday.
That display led Elsie Leung Oi-sie, the vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee, which advises Chinese state leaders on the implementation of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, to say on Sunday that if there was any “large-scale” breach of the rules before the legislation on the Hong Kong’s looming national anthem law, the city’s legislature had the power to make the law retroactive.

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She added that Legco, when examining the draft bill, could add a stipulation that the law would be effective from a specific time to make it retroactive, if there was a serious breach that caused “great impact on society”.

China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, decided to incorporate the mainland’s national anthem law into Hong Kong’s Basic Law on November 4, which means the city government must pass a local law to the same effect.

The law, effective on the mainland from last month, requires everyone to stand solemnly when March of the Volunteers is played. Anyone who maliciously modifies the lyrics, or plays or sings the song in “a distorted or disrespectful way in public”, can be detained for up to 15 days in “administrative detention” by police under the law, or imprisoned for three years under the mainland’s criminal code.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has said she would pursue a bill on the law at Legco before July next year.

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Hong Kong has seen a rise in booing national anthem in recent years.

Last month, a group of home fans booed the national anthem when it was played before the qualification match against Malaysia at Hong Kong Stadium.

The Asian Football Confederation gave the Hong Kong Football Association “a stern warning”, adding that a repeat would be “met with more severe punishment”, which could mean a large fine or the team having to play matches in an empty stadium.

Brian Leung Hung-tak, chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association, said he heard the booing on Tuesday but thought it was not that loud. Asked if he is worried the match commissioner would submit a negative report, he said there is nothing the association could do if it happened and had to accept the consequences.

Hong Kong will travel to Pyongyang for their last group match against North Korea in March next year. That result will decide which team qualifies along with Lebanon for the 2019 Asian Cup finals in United Arab Emirates, regardless of Tuesday’s result.

With additional reporting by Chan Kin-wa