The Chinese Football Association (CFA) never thought that its promotional poster for the World Cup qualifier match against Hong Kong would generate so much controversy in the city.
The poster, which warns the Chinese national team of Hong Kong’s “black, yellow and white” players, is simply urging them to stay on guard because the Hong Kong side has players of various ethnic backgrounds.
But the poster went viral, and Hong Kong netizens lambasted it for its “racist” message.
Sports commentator Cheung Chi-tak believes the CFA is simply expressing its view that Hong Kong is a formidable team.
Cheung, known in sports circles as “Little Ghost”, must know whereof he speaks. He is a former professional footballer who scored in Hong Kong’s 1985 match against the Chinese team.
Nonetheless, Cheung thinks it’s unwise for the CFA to have produced messages that link an international sporting event to political or even racial issues, especially amid anti-mainland sentiments in the city.
But thanks to the controversial poster, Cheung believes that a large crowd of Hong Kong football fans will fill up the stadium to cheer for their team.
The rivalry between China and Hong Kong goes a long way back, and has turned bitter at times.
In 1985, the match where China’s national team played guest against Hong Kong ended in a tie. But in another match that year, Hong Kong played guest and beat China 2-1. It was considered as the Hong Kong team’s best season yet.
But in 2004, Hong Kong lost seven goals to China in Guangzhou, prompting angry Hong Kong fans and media to accuse their team of giving way for the Chinese to advance.
Nonetheless, it was argued that they got the maths wrong as the Hong Kong team had saved one goal China needed in order to beat Kuwait.
When asked about that match, Cheung recalls that Hong Kong didn’t have the slightest feeling that they would lose to China before the game, although the opponents clearly had the upper hand.
“Football is a team sport of 11 people aiming for the same goal together. Unity is strength. Every player will do his best, and won’t think of losing the match,” he says.
According to Cheung, China’s Achilles’ heel is the poor psychological state of the players. Their performance is often unstable during stressful games.
He believes Hong Kong will do great in the coming games as they have fewer burdens.
Most importantly, the whole city — thanks to the CFA poster — is supporting them.
Speaking of “Big Head” Wu Kwok-hung, who died Monday at age 66, Cheung says though they had never played in the same club, it was a great honor for him to have served in the Hong Kong team together.
Cheung says politics are best left to the media and football fans, but never to footballers.
“Don’t complicate matters,” he says. “As a professional footballer, your role is to equip yourself well for the game. Take the advice that helps boost your performance and forget all criticisms that won’t help at all. Clear your mind, keep yourself light and enjoy the games.”
The coming three matches will be crucial for Hong Kong. The team plays guest against China in Shenzhen on Sept. 3, plays host versus Qatar on Sept. 8, and plays host to China on Nov. 17.
Stay tuned and support the Hong Kong team!
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 17.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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