Why Olympics will no longer serve to promote patriotism in HK

August 09, 2016 16:05
Elderly people watch the Olympics opening ceremonies on a giant TV screen. Chinese swimmer Sun Yang (inset) admires his Olympic medal. Photos: HKEJ, Xinhua

The Olympic Games used to be an effective tool for the authorities to promote patriotism in Hong Kong.

There was a time not too long ago when Hong Kong people felt mighty proud when China's national anthem was played as the country's flag was raised during the medal awarding ceremonies.

When Chinese athletes visited the territory after their rich harvest of gold medals in Sydney Olympics in 2000, they were welcomed as conquering heroes in the city.

But in the current Rio Olympics, Hong Kong people don't seem to display that kind of national fervor anymore.

Instead, many even sniffed at China's delegation for not winning medals on the first day of the games, and accused local media of showing bias in favor of the Chinese athletes in their coverage.

On social media, Hong Kong netizens say they prefer to watch the games on foreign cable channels because they could not stand the local coverage which displays "blind loyalty" to the Chinese team.

For example, Television Broadcasts, the exclusive Olympics broadcaster in Hong Kong, chose to broadcast a women's volleyball match involving China's team but failed to air a women's table tennis game in which a Hong Kong athlete was playing.

Many Hong Kong netizens accused TVB of trying to promote patriotism by focusing on Chinese athletes while failing to cover events where Hong Kong athletes were competing.

On the first day of the games last Friday, Chinese shooter Du Li, a gold medal hopeful, was defeated by her US rival.

Many were bewildered when local media came up with this headline: "China lost its first gold medal on the first day" of the games.

That's ridiculous. It implies that China was supposed to win the gold medal but didn't. The simple, undeniable fact is that the honor didn't belong to any player until the competition ended.

Local netizens made fun of the headline by posting a "crime report", saying that Du lost her gold medal in Brazil and urged the police to investigate the case.

On Monday, Hong Kong netizens tried to balance the local media's heavily biased coverage by posting news stories on gold medal winners from Taiwan, Vietnam and Kosovo.

There is also the mystery about the flawed version of the Chinese flag that was raised during the medal ceremonies in the first few days of the games.

The blunder drew the ire of Chinese people, who immediately assailed the games' organizers for committing what appeared, based on their virulent reactions, to be an unpardonable sin.

CCTV anchor Cui Yongyan was among the first to point out the mistake, saying that the Chinese flag “cannot have such an error”.

When the error was still not corrected the following day, Cui wrote on his Weibo account: “The first gold medal ceremony was moving, the national anthem was pleasing to hear, but the flag still had a small defect, the same as before. I don’t want to keep obsessively, compulsively bringing this up, but this is the national flag. It’s something you have to pay particular attention to … This is a concept that even primary school students should be able to understand.”

The reaction from Hong Kong was comparatively moderate. It's probably because Hong Kong people did not allow patriotism to get the better of them.

After all, if there was anyone to blame it's the officials in the Chinese delegation who should have checked all the preparations and paraphernalia to be used before the games.

Then there's the rivalry between Chinese swimmer Sun Yang and his Australian rival Mack Horton.

Horton made an issue of Sun testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2014 and splashing water in his lane during a training session.

Sun, after losing to Horton in the 400 meter freestyle event, proclaimed that he is still the king of the 1,500 meter freestyle event.

Meanwhile, Chinese state media quickly came to Sun's defense, calling Australia "uncivilized" and Britain's "offshore prison".

So much for the Olympics being a showcase of sportsmanship and world camaraderie.

All this trash talk is not doing any good to China's image as a rising world power.

And such an attitude certainly doesn't provide a good example for Hong Kong youngsters, or promote patriotism in the city.

China's performance in Rio won't serve to remove the anti-mainland sentiment that has grown in the city.

Beijing itself has fostered that negative sentiment by pushing the national education curriculum, by refusing to allow genuine universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election, and by implementing various measures that undermine the city's core values.

Many Hong Kong people simply don't care how Chinese athletes perform as a whole in the Olympics.

In fact, their interest in the games have gained a wider perspective. They appreciate the participation of refugees in the games and the victory of North Korea and Kosovo in some of the events.

Before the Olympics kicked off in Brazil last Friday, Home Affairs Secretary Lau Kong-Wah said the government would invite some of China's gold medalists to the city to share their joy with the Hong Kong public, as well as to receive prizes from local sponsors.

About 16 years ago, such a gesture would have been well received by the public.

But now, many Hong Kong people suspect that the Chinese athletes would only be used by the administration to support the pro-establishment candidates in the Legislative Council election next month.

If at all, the Olympic Games are helping Hong Kong people understand and appreciate the wonders and diversity of the world, but the government seems to want to limit our vision to China.

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EJ Insight writer