Hong Kong football fans booed the Chinese national anthem yet again at an international friendly against Bahrain on Thursday night at the Mong Kok Stadium.

Jeers during the anthem have occurred repeatedly since the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests. As a result, the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) was repeatedly fined for fans’ conduct during official matches.

The events came as the Hong Kong government says it has begun the local legislative process for the upcoming national anthem law. The highest penalty for disrespecting March of the Volunteers in the mainland is three years in prison.

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Sang Kan, a 20-year-old student, said it was the third time he had seen a Hong Kong team match. He said fans booed the anthem to express their discontent: “Particularly as the national anthem law is coming, we feel we have to do something.”

Asked if he was concerned about the potential retroactive effect of the law, he said: “It’s not like you can be easily recognised in a video and be proven guilty… there’s no point to worry for now.”

Unlike at previous matches, there was a much higher presence of plain-clothed police officers at Thursday’s game. An unnamed source cited by Apple Daily said the police were concerned that people supporting the national anthem law may clash with fans, and added that some plain clothed officers will be present in the standing section.

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Power of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Moment – two major fan groups – were able to bring in their large-scale banners supporting the local team, after declaring them to the HKFA beforehand.

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

Before the match, some fans booed the anthem under a large Hong Kong flag at the 6,600-seat stadium. As the anthem ended, the flag was dropped and they started chanting “We are Hong Kong.”

Pro-democracy Neo Democrats District Councillor Roy Tam also appeared at the match to support the local team.

He told HKFP that fans were covering themselves in the Hong Kong flag whilst booing in response to the upcoming national anthem law: “[China] has a move, and they came up with something smarter… [The law] only exists because the Chinese Communist Party has a fragile heart. Hong Kong has the freedom of expression.

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong team coach Kim Pan-gon urged the public not to force the team into politics, and said he will only focus on the matches.

Last week, the HKFA was given a warning over fans booing the national anthem at the Asian Cup qualifying match against Malaysia on October 10 at the Hong Kong Stadium. Hong Kong will face Lebanon in a Asian Cup qualifying match next Tuesday.

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

The Asian Football Confederation’s Disciplinary and Ethics Committee had said a repeat violation may result in a more severe punishment.

Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

According to news site Inmedia, a group of 24 fans who sat in section 17 – far away from major Hong Kong fan groups – stood up and held both Chinese and Hong Kong flags when the anthem was played.

They were not able to state which local team they supported, when challenged by Inmedia reporters: “We love the country and Hong Kong,” one of the the group members – who refused to give his name and affiliation – told the news site. “It’s best not to boo the anthem… if you boo the anthem, you don’t support the Hong Kong team.”

Photo: In-Media.

Hong Kong lost the game 2-0.

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.

The Hong Kong football team. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

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

Kris Cheng

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.