Hong Kong fans booed the Chinese national anthem thrice in four matches in the FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers these past several weeks.
They did it during Hong Kong’s matches against Bhutan and Maldives and again in Tuesday’s outing against Qatar.
There was no such incident when the locals played the Chinese national squad in Shenzhen last week for obvious reasons.
(Policemen patrolled Bao’An Stadium to begin with.)
What do these incidents tell us?
Firstly, that they could happen again.
And secondly, that China might decide they have been embarrassed enough.
For now, these incidents are a matter for FIFA, the world football governing body, which has decided to investigate.
But they have the potential to play into worsening cross-border politics.
The underlying problem is largely cultural more than political and is mainly about Hongkongers’ sense of belonging — or lack of it — toward China.
Which is why the idea of Hong Kong having its own anthem — call it regional anthem if you like — is beginning to make sense to some people.
But that’s a non-starter.
The Hong Kong government won’t sign off on it, let alone the central authorities in Beijing.
But what if it was a football anthem, something Hong Kong football fans can call their own?
It does not require an official recognition or approval, only the go-ahead from Hong Kong football authorities.
It won’t replace the Chinese national anthem at international events.
At the very least, it might ease the sense of alienation — even hostility — some football fans feel whenever they hear the Chinese national anthem.
In fact, the Basic Law does not require Hong Kong to adopt China’s national anthem, although it provides for a mechanism to resolve matters relating to “the capital, calendar, national anthem and national flag of the People’s Republic of China” after 1997.
Last year, Under A Vast Sky (海濶天空), a popular ballad by Hong Kong band Beyond was embraced by democracy protesters who turned it into an anthem for their movement.
To be sure, Hong Kong is not a unique case.
Scottish fans have been known to abuse the British national anthem at football matches and have largely escaped sanctions from the UEFA, the European football governing body.
They did it even when Scottish footballers played for the British national team alongside their English teammates.
The underlying sentiment is somewhat similar between Hong Kong and Scotland.
The Scottish people have been fighting for independence from Britain and Hongkongers have been battling for a high degree of autonomy promised them by Beijing.
A separate anthem for Hong Kong could be easily misinterpreted amid recent accusations some localists are fomenting independence.
On the other hand, China could use the issue to push national education in Hong Kong under the pretext of promoting patriotism.
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