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Hong Kong fans turn their backs during the Chinese national anthem before the Asian Cup match against Malaysia in Hong Kong, in 2017. Photo: Reuters

China changes law so it can act if country is insulted at sporting events

  • National People’s Congress Standing Committee passes revision to the Law on Physical Culture and Sports
  • There are no details on what constitutes an infringement of rights or dignity in revised law, which will take effect on January 1, 2023

Chinese lawmakers have approved a change to the law that would allow it to fight back at any perceived insult at international sporting events, underscoring the lengths President Xi Jinping’s government will go to protect China’s reputation abroad.

The National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed the revision to the Law on Physical Culture and Sports on Friday to allow for countermeasures if any country, region or organisation undermines the nation’s sovereignty, security, development interests or dignity in international sports events, according to full texts of the revised law released by Xinhua.

There were no details on what constitutes an infringement of rights or dignity. The revised law will take effect on January 1, 2023.

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Last year, Hong Kong police arrested a 40-year-old man accused of booing March of the Volunteers, thereby breaching the city’s national anthem law, at a shopping centre showing a live broadcast of local fencer Edgar Cheung Ka-long receiving his gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Hong Kong football fans have also repeatedly booed the anthem at games in the past, both at home and abroad, although doing so now in the city would be against the law passed last year.

China has a history of responding to the slightest criticism, whether about close ties with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine or the government’s activities in the far western region of Xinjiang, where it’s been accused of human rights abuses.

Last month, when World Health Organization chief Tedros Ghebreyesus said China’s zero-tolerance Covid strategy was not “sustainable,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman immediately hit back, saying “the relevant individual” should “try to get a better understanding of the facts and refrain from making irresponsible remarks”.

The government’s defence of its policies also involves the sports world. After Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter made statements in support of Tibet last year, internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd removed all live-streaming for the NBA team’s games.

In 2019, a tweet by Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong prompted state broadcaster China Central Television to suspend showing NBA contests for about a year.