Hong Kong fans ignore warnings and again boo the national anthem – this time before an Asian Cup qualifier
Jeers ring out across Hong Kong Stadium as some turn their back on March of the Volunteers before the home side defeats Malaysia 2-0
The Hong Kong Football Association was left helpless as fans again booed the national anthem – this time before an Asian Cup qualifying match against Malaysia on Tuesday night.
Before a match that Hong Kong won 2-0 to keep their hopes of qualifying alive, a block of fans from the East Stand, mostly youngsters, jeered and were heard clearly throughout the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium in So Kon Po.
Some also turned their backs when March of the Volunteers was played and one banner called for Hong Kong’s independence.
Association chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak refused to comment on the situation. The association had decided to go ahead and play the national anthem, which is not mandatory under Fifa rules.
“We always welcome fans to come and support the Hong Kong team. That’s why we are here tonight. Our focus is solely on sport and we are not going to discuss subjects other than that,” he said.
Watch: Hong Kong football fans boo their national anthem
It was the 14th match in a row home fans have protested against the anthem since Hong Kong played hosts to Bhutan in a World Cup qualifier in June 2015, six months after the Occupy pro-democracy protests.
The HKFA was fined twice by Fifa in 2015 after the world governing body accused the local organisation of failing to control its crowd behaviour.
However, throughout 2016 and until June this year when Hong Kong played host to North Korea in the Asian Cup qualifiers, no action was taken by the governing bodies despite the fact some fans continued with similar behaviour.
But the situation got serious after the National People’s Congress passed a national anthem law in early September, stating offenders will be liable to a 15-day imprisonment on the mainland. This law is not yet incorporated into legislation in Hong Kong.
The association has yet to hear of any possible punishment from the Asian Football Confederation over fans jeering the national anthem before last week’s international friendly against Laos at Mong Kok Stadium.
On the pitch, veteran Jorge Tarres, who only received his Hong Kong passport last week, steered the home team to victory over 10-man Malaysia with his second goal in as many matches.
Having scored in his international debut against Laos on Thursday, the 36-year-old found the net again at Hong Kong Stadium when he headed home a Wong Wai free kick just before half-time in front of a 7,900-strong crowd.
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Jaimes McKee added to the tally early in the second half to bring Hong Kong their first victory from three games in group B.
“It was an important game and I am happy for the victory, happy for getting three points for the fans who came to support us,” said Tarres, who has been awarded the MVP in both his matches for Hong Kong.
“I have played many Malaysian players before in the regional club competitions and I know them well. But the game was also made easier after they went down to 10 men as we could find more space.”
Tarres, along with fellow Spanish-born teammates Daniel Cancela and Fernando Recio, were recruited immediately after they obtained Hong Kong passports and the trio have impressed in both games they have played so far.
Even Malaysia coach Eduardo Manuel Vingada said Hong Kong were a better team than the one his side drew 1-1 against in Malacca last month.
Both teams needed to win to keep their hopes alive but Hong Kong were given a numerical advantage after Malaysia captain Safiq Rahim was shown a red card for a bad tackle on Cancela just before half-time.
The home team scored within minutes of the send-off and McKee sealed the victory early in the second half.