Most officials of the Leung Chun-ying administration have taken a low profile when it comes to Hong Kong’s campaign in the 2018 World Cup Asia qualifiers.
With the rise of localism and anti-Beijing sentiment in the city, watching a game between Hong Kong and mainland China may not be exactly their idea of fun.
They certainly would find it embarrassing to be in the stadium where jeers and catcalls could be heard from some Hong Kong fans when the Chinese national anthem was being played.
And who would they cheer for? If they root for the local team, they could be accused of being unpatriotic; when they cheer for China, they would not only be considered a traitor to their city but also untrue to themselves.
Besides, if the Hong Kong team lost, they could get tagged as a jinx.
On Tuesday night, Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah was seen at Mong Kok Stadium watching the game between Hong Kong and Qatar.
He is probably the first senior government official to attend the qualifier matches in Hong Kong since June. Although he tried to make himself inconspicuous, his appearance drew some applause from the crowd.
Hong Kong lost, but local fans did not leave with bowed heads. On the contrary, they were wildly proud of the performance of the home team.
With only five minutes left to play, the score was 3-nil in favor of the visiting team. But Hong Kong showed their “never give up” spirit and scored twice before the game ended.
During the 90-minute match, Tsang’s Facebook page was updated frequently (by his Facebook page manager) to show live scenes at the stadium. There’s also a video of Tsang jumping for joy in response to the home team’s goal.
After the match, Tsang left a message on his social media page congratulating the Hong Kong team for a job well done.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who was tight-lipped on the performance of Hong Kong against China just a week ago, also published a blog article at midnight to praise the performance of our boys.
He used the term “Lion Rock spirit” to describe the team’s comeback from an otherwise devastating 3-nil setback, and said he believes that Hong Kong can very well compete with other teams (including China) at the next stage of the competition.
Despite his words of felicitation and encouragement, Leung was not able to match the genuineness of Tsang’s support for the team. He was there, watching and cheering as the team struggled to overcome a huge deficit.
And Tsang was not a sudden, out-of-the-blue sports fan. Last Saturday, he also displayed his support for local athletes by attending a match of Hong Kong-born boxer Rex Tso.
Leung, in contrast, has never been known to be a real supporter of Hong Kong sports development. In fact, he even suggested that a sports ground at Kai Tak be redeveloped for public housing, noting that sports contribute little to the local economy.
Let’s admit it. In Hong Kong, it’s quite seldom to see senior government officials spending hours watching football matches — or any other sporting event for that matter. Sometimes they are there as guest of honor but they leave immediately after the kick-off ceremony.
In other countries, leaders are known to be great supporters of national sports teams. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, is often spotted in football stadiums watching the national team perform.
But here government officials prefer to avoid watching the World Cup qualifiers? The reason: politics.
Hong Kong officials are expected to support the Hong Kong team when it is competing in an international tournament. But they will find themselves torn between two loyalties when the game pits Hong Kong against China.
Hong Kong ended its game with China in a goalless draw in Shenzhen last week, forcing China to win against other rivals in order to reach the next stage.
In fact, some Chinese commentators criticized the Hong Kong team for not “allowing” China to win the match, accusing goalkeeper Yapp hung-fai of not being patriotic for denying China three goals.
From the viewpoint of Beijing loyalists, it’s simply not politically correct for Hong Kong to draw with the national team; China should win against Hong Kong.
But Tsang, by his appearance at the Mong Kok Stadium, expressed his support not only for the Hong Kong team but also his confidence in the capability of the Hong Kong people to attain their goals.
Tsang is sending a message to both Hong Kong and Beijing that he is representing the best interest of Hong Kong.
After all, even under the “one country, two systems” principle, Hong Kong is in a unique position to fight for its own glory.
Because of that, Tsang shows that he is standing not only with Hong Kong football fans but with the all Hong Kong people who believe that they can stand on their own.
What a far cry from the mentality of some government officials, who put politics ahead of Hong Kong’s interests.
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