Hong Kong FA hopes for ‘common sense’ after AFC warns of ‘more severe punishment’ over booing of national anthem
Chief executive Mark Sutcliffe hopes a minority of fans do not spoil it for the others when Hong Kong face Lebanon on November 14
The Hong Kong Football Association is confident Asia’s governing body would take a “common sense approach” after it issued a warning of “more severe punishment” should local fans continue to boo the Chinese national anthem.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Tuesday warned the HKFA after some fans booed March of the Volunteers before Hong Kong’s 2-0 victory over Malaysia in an Asian Cup qualifier on October 10 at Hong Kong Stadium.
It was not the first time Hong Kong fans booed the anthem and HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said the body was doing its best to encourage fans to keep politics out of the stadium.
The next test is on November 9 when Hong Kong play Bahrain at Mong Kok Stadium. Five days later, second-placed Hong Kong face pool B leaders Lebanon at So Kon Po in a crucial qualifier.
“If you read the AFC disciplinary code for this type of offence, there is no formal punishment so it will have to be at the discretion of the committee, and we have to interpret what they mean by ‘more severe punishment’,” said Sutcliffe.
“My understanding is that the next step would be a fine, and I would imagine the AFC would follow Fifa regulations, so this would be followed by a larger fine and eventually lead to playing behind closed doors. Or if it carries on, the punishment could become more drastic and points could be deducted and failing this sanction, they could kick us out of the competition.
“That would be the normal ratcheting up of sanctions. I’m sure the AFC would take a common sense approach and realise there is not a lot the FA can do. Obviously, we try to do what we can to stop it.”
Football matches have increasingly become venues for the voicing of discontent from those in Hong Kong who are unhappy with China’s role in running the former British colony.
The HKFA has previously been fined by Fifa and in September, China passed a law stating that disrespecting the anthem could result in 15 days’ imprisonment. The law has come into force in China but has yet to be extended to Hong Kong.
Lebanon lead the table on 10 points from four matches with Hong Kong second on five points with two games left. North Korea are third on two points with the top two advancing to the 2019 Asian Cup finals in the UAE.
The FA on Tuesday condemned those fans who disrespected the anthem and urged them to resist in the future. The body is also planning to post notices on Facebook, its website and other social media avenues to encourage fans to behave during the anthem.
Hong Kong fans ignore warnings and again boo the national anthem – this time before an Asian Cup qualifier
Sutcliffe said the FA had meetings with stadium management and police to implement high levels of security for the Lebanon game, including checking bags to ensure no political banners are taken into the venue.
“It’s a shame if a minority of people spoil it for fans who just want to watch a football match,” he said. “Ultimately, if the AFC wants us to play behind closed doors, it would come to a very sad stage.”
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s football body was fined US$30,000 on Tuesday after the national team’s fans chanted “dogs” at supporters from Singapore and Brunei during matches at the Southeast Asian Games.
Malaysian supporters chanted “Brunei dogs should just be killed” during their side’s 2-1 victory over the neighbouring country on August 14 at the Kuala Lumpur-hosted tournament, the AFC said.
Two days later the fans also chanted that Singaporeans were “dogs” as Malaysia beat the city-state 2-1.
The AFC’s disciplinary committee fined the Football Association of Malaysia US$15,000 for each of the offences.
Additional reporting Reuters and Agence France-Presse