Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying remained coy when asked which team he supported in Tuesday night’s FIFA World Cup qualifier between Hong Kong and mainland China.
Speaking to journalists after his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Conference in Manila, Leung tried to evade the question, saying that he and the Chinese leader did not talk about football.
But the reporters pressed him on the matter, asking him why it was so sensitive to reveal which side he supported.
“There was, in fact, nothing too sensitive,” Ming Pao Daily quoted Leung as saying.
He went on to say that members of the press never asked him which team he supported when Hong Kong faced mainland opponents in past games.
The question highlights the rising tension between Hong Kong residents and mainlanders, and any statement from Leung about which team he supported in the game could be given a political meaning by either side.
Critics have accused Leung of being beholden to Beijing, implementing its wishes even at the expense of Hong Kong people.
Leung said the Hong Kong government has always been supportive of sports development and cited its plan to build sports facilities at the former airport in Kai Tak.
He noted that the HK$20 billion multi-purpose sports complex will be built on a valuable piece of land, which otherwise could have been used to ease the housing shortage in the territory.
Speaking in a morning radio program on Wednesday, Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak said government officials are Hong Kong people as well and it is only fair that they support the local team.
“A football match is no more than a football match, there is no need to think too much about it,” the HKFA chief said.
He praised Hong Kong team coach Kim Pan-gon for the strategies he deployed in the match, which ended 0-0, while thanking the players for their unreserved dedication to the game and the enthusiastic support of the home fans.
He said he had never experienced before the kind of atmosphere at the Mong Kok Stadium where the game was held, and he hoped more international competitions can be staged in Hong Kong.
As to why football fans were asked not to display sign boards with the slogan “Hong Kong is not China” by HKFA staff during the match, Leung said the slogan was a little bit too political.
State-backed newspaper Global Times bewailed the behavior of some local fans during the game, such as when they booed the national anthem, and urged FIFA to impose heavier penalty on the HKFA.
– Contact us at [email protected]