Hong Kong handed US$3,000 slap on the wrist by AFC for fans booing the national anthem
Asian Football Confederation warns of a more severe punishment for repeat violation, but Hong Kong soccer chief Brian Leung says it understands their predicament
Hong Kong have escaped with a minimal fine of US$3,000 for fans booing the China national anthem at last month’s Asian Cup qualifying match against visitors Lebanon.
In a statement issued by the Asian Football Confederation, the Hong Kong Football Association has been ordered to pay the fine for violating Article 65.1 of the disciplinary and ethics code during the pre-match ceremony at Hong Kong Stadium.
And, as usual, the governing body warned its member association a repeat violation would be met with more severe punishment.
“We don’t want to comment on the amount as it is still a fine, but I think the AFC understands our situation since our hands are tied in the incident,” association chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak said on Wednesday.
“We have repeatedly appealed to fans [to not boo the national anthem] and there is nothing more we can do. I hope we can get past all these incidents. There is a long time before we have our next international home game.”
Hong Kong will play their final Asian Cup qualifying match against North Korea in Pyongyang in March and the next international fixture will not come again until next autumn.
In 2015, Hong Kong were fined 10,000 Swiss francs (HK$77,150) by Fifa when fans were found guilty of the same behaviour during their World Cup qualifying match against China.
That was the second time that the game’s governing body had levied a fine on the HKFA for supporters booing during the anthem, with the first instance following the game against Qatar in an earlier qualifier.
Booing the China national anthem before an international soccer game has become the norm for a group of fans following strong anti-China sentiment after the crackdown of the Occupation Movement in late 2014.
The Lebanon game was the 16th game in a row where a group of Hong Kong supporters had booed March of the Volunteers, as China’s anthem is known. Some fans have acknowledged previous pleas not to boo from the HKFA and taken instead to holding up signs reading “Boo” during the anthem, while others have opted to turn their backs to the field as it plays.
Hong Kong’s FA was previously warned by the AFC’s Disciplinary and Ethics Committee over fan conduct during the anthem following booing at the Malaysia game in October and told that a repeat would result in more severe punishment.
If the booing continues it will result in larger fines and the threat that Hong Kong will have to play home games behind closed doors.
The situation has been fuelled by the recent National Anthem Law in China, aimed at punishing individuals who disrespect the anthem, which will soon be adopted into Hong Kong legislation.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong midfielder Tan Chun-lok was fined US$1,000 by the AFC for kicking a Lebanese opponent with excessive force in the same match. Tan was given a straight red for his actions and will also be suspended for the match against North Korea.
Hong Kong can qualify for the 2019 Asia Cup if they beat North Korea by two goals in their clash in March. The teams’ previous meeting ended in a 1-1 draw at Hong Kong Stadium in June.