Chief Executive John Lee has linked the protest song played ahead of a rugby match between Hong Kong and South Korea on Sunday in the place of the Chinese national anthem to “violence,” “disturbances,” and “advocacy for Hong Kong’s independence” during the 2019 protests.

Lee’s comments came as he addressed the press on Tuesday morning before his weekly Executive Council meeting and hours after the police announced that they were looking into whether the incident involved any breaches of the city’s National Anthem Ordinance or other laws, including the national security legislation.

John Lee
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

“Glory to Hong Kong,” a tune popular among pro-democracy protesters in 2019, was heard at the stadium in Incheon ahead of the men’s final between Hong Kong and South Korea on Sunday, instead of the Chinese national anthem “March of the Volunteers.” Although the protests attracted a handful of pro-independence activists, secession was not one of the movement’s demands.

According to a police statement released on Monday evening, the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau was handling the case. The bureau is mainly tasked with probing “complex organised crime and serious triad offences,” according to the police website.

At his regular meeting with the press on Tuesday morning, Lee said he believed that the force had “sufficient experience” to investigate the matter.

“[T]he song that was played was closely connected to the 2019 violence and disturbances, and advocacy for Hong Kong’s independence,” Lee said.

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“In fact, it is the organiser’s responsibility to ensure that all things are run properly. This of course includes the playing of national anthems of any players who have won the match,” he added.

The chief executive said he would ask the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau to work with sporting organisations to make improvements in the area.

No.2 official meets Korean consul general

The city’s Chief Secretary for Administration Eric Chan has met with the Consul General of South Korea in Hong Kong over the incident.

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A press release published by his office said the Hong Kong government “strongly deplores and opposes” the incident and had requested the Korean side to look into what had happened.

While Asia Rugby, the organiser of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series and the governing body of rugby union in the region, has apologised and explained that it was down to “simple human error” made by a junior member of staff, Chan said the Hong Kong government raised “strong objection to the association for its inability” to prevent the mistake from happening.

The Korea Times on Monday cited a public relations representative from the Korea Rugby Union as saying that the local organiser had asked each country to submit national anthems to play, but had failed to get one from the Hong Kong team.

Korea Rugby Union staff “saved ‘the Hong Kong national anthem’ listed on the top of a search engine in the file folder named, ‘Hong Kong’,” the newspaper reported.

Although Asia Rugby later informed the Korean organiser that it should play the Chinese national anthem for the Hong Kong team, the mistakenly saved file was not deleted and was delivered to the broadcast team, which resulted in it being played when Hong Kong made it to the final.

The Hong Kong government has requested Asia Rugby and the Hong Kong Rugby Union to launch further investigations into the incident.

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Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.