Hong Kong fans debate whether to boo the national anthem

November 02, 2015 11:38
Will Mong Kok Stadium resound with boos during the national anthem on Nov. 17, or will Hong Kong fans decide to be more 'civilized' than their counterparts in Europe and South America? Photo: HK govt

“So they will prosecute me under the national security law for attempting to overthrow the government?

"Is that what they will do if I boo the national anthem?”

Leung Man-kit was putting on the goalkeeper’s jersey as he prepared for his regular Sunday morning soccer game.

He is planning to buy a ticket for the World Cup qualifying match against China on Nov. 17, to be held at Mong Kok Stadium.

Last month, FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, fined the football authorities in Hong Kong US$5,160 for booing of the Chinese anthem by spectators in games against Bhutan, the Maldives and Qatar and warned that further infringements would lead to more severe sanctions.

“We will promote the message of ‘not booing’ on all our media channels,” said Brian Leung, chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association.

But Leung Man-kit did not agree.

“Hong Kong is a free city. I can say what I want," he said.

"And I am not booing a foreign anthem. I am booing my own.

"Is that not my right?”

Some of his teammates did not agree.

“My opinion is that you can boo the players of the other team as much as you want, but we should remain silent for the two or three minutes of the national anthem,” said Lam Keung-man, who plays center forward on the Sunday soccer team.

“It is a matter of basic respect.

"We in Hong Kong are civilized people, aren’t we?”

Wong Hing, who plays mid-field on the Sunday team, asked why the captain of the Chinese national team, Zheng Zhi, called the Hong Kong team's goalkeeper, Yap Hung-fai, a "dog" during a World Cup qualifying match in Shenzhen in September.

Yap’s outstanding performance won the Hong Kong team a 0-0 draw.

Zheng denies having used that word.

During the Cultural Revolution, the Red Guards called the British in Hong Kong "white-skinned pigs" and Chinese in the city "yellow-skinned dogs" for following their "colonial masters".

On the internet, many mainlanders used the term "dogs" to refer to Hongkongers after the Shenzhen game and the booing of the anthem at the earlier matches, accusing them of disloyalty to the motherland.

Wong said: “Why do we go to soccer games?

"We go to let off steam, shout swear words and let all our anger and frustrations out.

"It is a kind of therapy.

"Then, when we go home, we behave properly to our families.

"That is what you see at soccer games in other countries.”

He is right.

Foul language, swearing and abuse of the other team are common at matches in the big European and South American leagues.

A large police presence is required at games between rival teams from the same city, where violence is a possibility.

In Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, games between the city’s top teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate, have led to killings of rival fans.

As a result, fans from the visiting team are now not allowed to attend.

When the visiting team scores a goal, there is complete silence in the stadium – it has no fans there to celebrate.

In Europe, racial abuse against non-white players is common, especially in countries in Eastern Europe.

At a Champion’s League game last month at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, local fans booed the anthem of the Champions League.

As a result, the club may face a fine.

“It is a joke,” said Vincent Kompany, captain of Manchester City.

“We have played many games in Europe where there has been racial abuse, and we have had to put up with it …

"There is nothing holy about the Champions League anthem.

"If something is happening and fans are not happy about it, they are allowed to show their discontent.”

For him, the fans, who pay significant money for their tickets and give up their time to support their team, have the right to express their opinions.

In Hong Kong, the booing of the anthem is more a political statement than anger against the players of the Chinese team.

Fans may be angry about Beijing’s refusal to allow universal suffrage in the election of the chief executive, the inefficiency of the Hong Kong government, "parallel traders" or the bad behavior of some mainland visitors.

Or they may come from people whose families lost land, property and family members during the period of Communist Party rule or have had bad experiences in the mainland.

The match will be held at Mong Kok Stadium, which has 6,800 seats, rather than Hong Kong Stadium, which has 40,000, or Siu Sai Wan Stadium, which has 12,000.

Some supporters wonder if the government chose the smallest venue because it is afraid of public anger against Beijing and wants to limit its expression as much as possible.

So, now it is up to Hong Kong fans to make their choice.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.