Jeers and fears: venues approved for Hong Kong matches despite repeated anthem protests
FA chief admits they are helpless to do anything about the jeering until it is enshrined in law as Lebanon and Bahrain games confirmed at same facilities
Venues for Hong Kong’s next two international matches have been approved by the government, despite repeated booing of the national anthem causing further embarrassment and reaching the ears of chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
After their 2-0 victory over Malaysia on Tuesday in the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers, Hong Kong will play hosts to group leaders Lebanon at the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium on November 14. They will also play Bahrain in a warm-up game at Mong Kok Stadium on November 9.
A block of fans in the East Stand, mainly youngsters, booed and jeered March of the Volunteers on Tuesday. The same incident took place in the friendly against Laos at Mong Kok five days earlier.
Lam said booing the national anthem was “very serious” and this was “an issue of respect for the nation and whether you recognise you are Chinese”.
The National People’s Congress last month passed the national anthem law, requiring people at events to stand up straight and remain solemn for the song. Offenders on the mainland are liable to 15 days’ detention, but the law has yet to be incorporated into legislation in Hong Kong.
The government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which owns both facilities, said the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) could continue to use the two venues.
“The hiring of the stadium facilities by the HKFA for the friendly match between Hong Kong and Bahrain and for the Asian Cup qualifiers between Hong Kong and Lebanon have been approved. No change is anticipated,” a department spokesman said.
“The department has been working closely with HKFA to ensure the orderly staging of various football matches at Hong Kong Stadium and Mong Kok Stadium.
“We will continue close collaboration to ensure the smooth staging of football events.”
HFKA chairman Brian Leung Hung-talk said they had maintained a good working relationship with the department and saw no reason why they would reject the use of facilities.
“This was misbehaviour by a small number of fans. The majority came to support the Hong Kong team,” he said. “Until we have the national anthem law in Hong Kong, there is not too much we can do about it.”
As the owner, the LCSD has the final decision on the facility usage. Prior to the highly anticipated 2018 World Cup qualifier clash between Hong Kong and China two years ago, the department turned down the association’s request to use Hong Kong Stadium and the match was moved to the much smaller Mong Kok Stadium.
The department said the Hong Kong Stadium pitch would not recover in time from the 2016 Olympic Games rugby qualification tournament held nine days earlier.
The HKFA, however, was fined 10,000 Swiss francs (HK$77,000) by Fifa for improper conduct after home fans booed the national anthem.