The Hong Kong Football Association was fined US$3,000 (HK$23,455) after Hong Kong football fans booed the Chinese national anthem at an official Asian Cup qualifying match against Lebanon last month.

The Asian Football Confederation said: “The Hong Kong Football Association Ltd is informed that a repeat violation of this provision will be met with more severe punishment.”

The match against Lebanon was the fourth consecutive home match in which fans jeered the anthem since the new season kicked off after the summer break. Fans have repeatedly booed the anthem since the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests.

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Before the match, the Hong Kong Football Association had already received a warning about fans booing the national anthem at the AFC Asian Cup qualifying match against Malaysia in October.

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

The fines came as the Hong Kong government said it has begun the local legislative process for the national anthem law. China’s legislature seeks to insert the law into Annex III of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s de facto constitution. The highest penalty for disrespecting March of the Volunteers in the mainland is three years in prison.

‘Orchestrated anti-booing rent a crowd’

Last month, the Hong Kong Football Association’s CEO Mark Sutcliffe wrote on his blog that the booing was “getting a bit tedious.”

Mark Sutcliffe
Mark Sutcliffe. Photo: In-Media.

“The fans who boo have made their point now and I’m pretty sure that if there hadn’t been such interest shown by the politicians and in particular the media, it would have stopped a long time ago,” he said.

“I can’t read most of the papers here but the ones I can read have stopped reporting on the football and are solely interested in the crowd behavior before the match which of course just encourages more booing. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, which I am sure the media knows and relishes.”

He also criticised an “orchestrated anti-booing rent a crowd” that was apparently paid to attend matches and oppose fans who boo the anthem.

“I don’t know who these people are or who is paying them but they are clearly not there to watch the football. They have no understanding of the game and even less interest,” he said. “Last night I watched as they sat through the entire Lebanon anthem. Personally I find it more offensive to disrespect someone else’s anthem than your own. Someone should teach both groups some manners.”

Hong Kong Lebanon match anti-booing fans
Photo: In-Media.

“This situation is a sad indictment on Hong Kong. Our beloved game is being hijacked (to the obvious delight of the media) as a political tool by both sides in a polarized, fractured society. It’s very sad that the action on the pitch is now seen by many as secondary to what is happening off it. Please if you’re not bothered about the football, just stay away.”

In order to proceed to the 2019 Asian Cup finals, Hong Kong must beat North Korea during the last match of the group stage in Pyongyang next March.

The Hong Kong team’s next match will be the annual Guangdong – Hong Kong Cup at the Hong Kong Stadium on January 4.

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.