The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) has been warned over fans booing the national anthem at an official match.

A group of Hong Kong fans booed the Chinese anthem at the AFC Asian Cup qualifying match against Malaysia on October 10 at the Hong Kong Stadium.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Disciplinary and Ethics Committee handed down the warning following its meeting last week. The Committee found it was in breach of Article 65.1 (Spectator conduct) of the AFC Disciplinary and Ethics Code. “A repeat violation may result in a more severe punishment,” said the Committee.

Hong Kong fans boo national anthem

During the match, some fans turned their backs when March of the Volunteers was played, as some also displayed a banner that read “Hong Kong independence” at the 40,000-seat stadium.

It came after fans booed the anthem during a friendly match against Laos on October 5, though the AFC did not hand down any punishment over their behaviour.

Following the warning, the HKFA urged all fans at matches to exercise restrain, and stressed that they must respect the national anthems of the teams playing. It said the AFC has warned that a repeat violation may result in a more severe punishment, including playing matches behind closed doors.

Pui Kwan-kay, vice-chairman of HKFA, had earlier warned that punishments may increase in severity, with the harshest penalty being a loss of points for the Hong Kong team, harming their chances of proceeding to the Asian Cup finals.

The HKFA has been fined twice by FIFA, the global football governing body, as a result of supporters apparently booing the anthem at two 2015 World Cup qualifying matches. It received fines of 5,000 and 10,000 Swiss francs respectively – a sum totalling HK$120,000.

Hong Kong fans boo national anthem

China’s legislative body approved a new law in early September that will criminalise insulting the national anthem, March of the Volunteers. It took effect on National Day on October 1.

On Tuesday, the National People’s Congress considered a bill mandating prison sentences of up to three years for those disrespecting the national anthem.

Although the Hong Kong government had said it intends to enact the law locally, it has yet to be tabled at the Legislative Council. The government said it has already begun preliminary work on the proposed national anthem law.

It is still under debate whether the law should have retroactive power, but law scholars and democrats have said criminal laws in Hong Kong should not have such power.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.