Pro-democracy protest song Glory to Hong Kong has again been played at a sporting finale instead of the city’s official national anthem, China’s March of the Volunteers. It comes amid a weeks-long row over the mix-ups and is the fourth such incident to have emerged this year.

At the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship in Dubai on Friday, local gold medallist Susanna Lin made the “time out” gesture as Glory to Hong Kong was played during the prize-giving ceremony. After a similar mishap in South Korea, the authorities issued guidelines to sporting bodies insisting that athletes should make the gesture with their arms should they hear the incorrect anthem.

Susanna Lin at the Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship 2022 in Dubai on Friday, December 11, 2022. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

The song – associated with the 2019 protests and unrest – was halted and the correct anthem was played after an almost two-minute delay.

The Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee (SF&OC) said in a Saturday statement that it has asked organisers to investigate and that the athlete and team reacted appropriately.

“The team manager of HKWPA [Hong Kong Weightlifting and Powerlifting Association] has also followed the guidelines and collected a toolkit containing the correct national anthem and regional flag from SF&OC on 28 November 2022 for use at the event,” it said. “The athlete and team manager involved have responded in a timely and appropriate manner during the incident, and notified the organizer to make correction shortly.”

“Police are greatly concerned and the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau is investigating the incident,” the police told HKFP on Saturday. “Police will sternly follow up on whether the incident involves a conspiracy to breach the national anthem law or other Hong Kong laws.”

It did not respond as to whether the song itself was illegal.

Anthem saga

On November 13, the protest song was heard at South Korea’s Rugby Sevens instead of the national anthem. It prompted Asia Rugby President Qais Abdulla Al Dhalai to fly into the city to apologise as the government demanded an investigation. Organisers had reportedly downloaded the top song listed when when searching online for the “Hong Kong national anthem.”

Hong Kong rugby players remained stone-faced as a protest anthem was played instead of the national anthem in Korea. Photo: Rugby7s screenshot via YouTube.

Instances of Glory to Hong Kong being twice mislabelled as the “national anthem of Hong Kong” in televised footage at other rugby events emerged in the days that followed.

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.

Last week, the government asked a search engine to pin the correct information about the national anthem at the top of their search results. Local media reported that the search engine in question was Google.

When HKFP searched for “Hong Kong national anthem” in English using incognito browsing mode on Saturday, the top result was the Wikipedia page for the city’s anthem, with a descriptive “snippet” underneath referencing the colonial anthem.

Legality unclear

The government has said the song is “closely associated with violent protests and the ‘independence’ movement in 2019.” Though the protests attracted a handful of pro-independence activists, it was not one of the movement’s demands.

A 42-year-old was arrested for “sedition” on November 23 for sharing a video of the anthem blunder with supportive messages of thanks – he was denied bail.

Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The authorities have refused to say if the song is unlawful, though it is banned in schools and police have intervened when it is played in public.

Hong Kong’s national anthem law, which criminalises insults to March of the Volunteers,” was enacted domestically on June 4, 2020 – violators risk fines up to HK$50,000 or three years in prison. Last week, a citizen journalist was the first to be jailed under the law.

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

Tom Grundy

Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.