Hong Kong athletes will be asked to signal to sporting event organisers using the “time out” gesture if the wrong song is played instead of China’s national anthem, a sporting official has said.

The comment came after a song linked to the 2019 protests in Hong Kong was heard instead of the “March of the Volunteers” ahead of a rugby match between the city’s team and South Korea recently.

timeout gesture
Timeout gesture. File photo: geralt, via Needpix.com.

Ronnie Wong, the honorary secretary general of the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee of Hong Kong (SF&OC) told RTHK on Monday morning that the group planned to release guidelines this week detailing how athletes should react if such situations arise.

The move came after a string of national anthem-related blunders at rugby matches came to light, including one that saw protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” played instead of the Chinese national anthem. “Glory to Hong Kong” was also twice mislabelled as the “national anthem of Hong Kong” in televised footage. China’s national anthem, the “March of the Volunteers” is used by the city.

According to Wong, the guidelines will ask each sporting team representing Hong Kong to carry two sets of government approved national anthems as well as regional flags when they compete overseas. The teams are required to sign and confirm with event organisers that they have been received.

If a mistake occurs, Wong said the highest ranking member of the group representing the city – such as the chef de mission or the team captain – would be responsible for halting the situation.

Additionally, Wong said those appearing on broadcasts – including athletes, team leaders and coaches – should signal to the organiser “immediately.”

Hong Kong rugby Glory to Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s national anthem was labelled as “Glory to Hong Kong” in a match between the city’s team and Portugal held on November 6, 2022. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

“While the chef de mission or team captains are higher ranking, they might be in the audience… whatever they do, people might not see them and the effect would not be as large,” he said.

Wong said SF&OC’s new guidelines would recommend athletes perform a time out hand gesture if the wrong anthem were played, “signalling to the organiser that something has to be stopped.”

“If [the organiser] makes such serious mistakes and fails to correct them, we might have to ask [our athletes] to withdraw,” he added.

When asked whether the committee had considered how athletes would be affected if they were made to withdraw from a competition they prepared hard for, Wong said the SF&OC believed it was “what should be done.”

“If it was the organiser’s mistake, that will immediately become clear, ” he added.

‘Sanction’ host countries

As well as regulating Hong Kong’s representatives at overseas sporting matches, Wong said the SF&OC would also issue complaints to international associations if a host country repeatedly made the same mistake.

ronnie wong man-chiu
Ronnie Wong. Photo: SF&OC.

“We hope to they will be sanctioned and be prevented from hosting the competition again in the future, ” Wong said, adding that “we have to be firmer, so that hosting [nations] will think clearly about the consequences of committing a blunder.”

However, Wong said Hong Kong would refrain from boycotting international matches unless a mistake was made “purposefully.”

In the cases of the wrong song title being displayed on televised broadcasts, Wong admitted the SF&OC had not yet come up with a good solution and had to further consult experts.

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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.