HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong football supporters again jeered China’s national anthem on Tuesday as tensions between sections of the city’s population and the mainland Chinese authorities continue to simmer.
A group of fans at Hong Kong Stadium for the Asian Cup qualifying match against Malaysia booed during ‘The March of the Volunteers’ in a continuing show of defiance that began in the aftermath of the city’s pro-democracy protests in 2014.
Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) chairman Brian Leung declined to comment on the behaviour of the supporters.
“We always welcome fans to come and support the Hong Kong team,” he was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.
“That’s why we are here tonight. Our focus is solely on sport and we are not going to discuss subjects other than that.”
Football matches have increasingly become venues for the voicing of discontent from those in Hong Kong who are unhappy with China’s role in running the city since it took over following the handover of sovereignty from Britain in 1997.
The HKFA has previously been fined by FIFA, football’s world governing body, over the booing of China’s national anthem.
China’s National People’s Congress passed a law in September stating that disrespecting the anthem could result in 15 days’ imprisonment. The law has come into force in China but has yet to be extended to Hong Kong.
The Asian Champions League meetings between Hong Kong’s Eastern club and Guangzhou Evergrande earlier this year prompted security concerns around the games in Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
Hong Kong fans were denied access to the first match in Guangzhou, while Evergrande supporters displayed abusive banners at the return game in Hong Kong’s Mongkok Stadium, a move that saw the Chinese Super League club fined by the Asian Football Confederation.
Hong Kong won Tuesday’s game against Malaysia 2-0 to move closer to securing a place at the Asian Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates in 2019. Elsewhere in Asian football, Pakistan were suspended by FIFA with immediate effect over ‘third party interference’. It’s national and club teams are barred from international competitions until the suspension is lifted.