The recent national anthem blunder at an international ice hockey match came after the organisers failed to download the correct version from a hyperlink provided by Hong Kong’s top sports federation, the city’s ice hockey body has said.

The Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association (HKIHA) on Tuesday laid blame on the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China (SF&OC), after pro-democracy protest song Glory to Hong Kong was played at an Ice Hockey World Championship match instead of China’s March of the Volunteers on February 28.

Glory to Hong Kong
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Annie Kwan, head of the city’s ice hockey team at the world championship, said in a statement that she had asked a staff member of the Ice Hockey Association of Bosnia & Herzegovina – the organising body – to confirm that it had received the Chinese national anthem submitted via email. She also requested that organisers confirm that the song file was the correct anthem.

“[The staff member] confirmed that the team leader had raised such requests and the organisers did not provide assistance,” Kwan wrote.

Anthem hyperlink

The HKIHA said it chose to provide the Chinese national anthem to the organiser via a hyperlink provided by the SF&OC. The link led to a Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau webpage on National Anthem. The page contained another hyperlink to the “Standard Score and Official Recording.”

By clicking on “Official Recording,” users would be directed the official website of the People’s Republic of China in Simplified Chinese with a list of national anthem files for download. But if users switched to the English language version of the site, they would be directed to the Chinese State Council’s English website rather than the anthem files.

“Even though the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association sent the link to the [organisers] in accordance with the guidelines, [the organisers] could not download the correct anthem,” Kwan said.

The Hong Kong team filed a complaint with the organiser after the blunder and were told that staff members of the organising body had searched for “Hong Kong Anthem” on Wikipedia and downloaded the wrong anthem.

Citing insufficient manpower, and ice hockey players falling ill upon arriving at Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kwan said it was very challenging for her to look after the team and make arrangements for the competition on her own.

YouTube video

“We already tried our best to safeguard the country’s dignity. We are proud that players could react instantly when the wrong anthem was played,” she said.

“Regarding claims that it was inappropriate for us to only give directions on WhatsApp, we regret that the efforts we made were not recognised,” she added.

‘Deeping apology’

Last Saturday, the Ice Hockey Association of Bosnia & Herzegovina expressed its “deepest regrets” and offered its “deepest apology” to the Hong Kong ice hockey body over the national anthem error.

According to an email from Adnan Mrkva, general secretary of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian body seen by HKFP, it told its Hong Kong counterpart that an apology letter was sent to the Chinse embassy in Sarajevo and the ambassador accepted the Federation’s apology and explanation.

“We did investigation of [the] incident and concluded that was honest human mistake by [a] technician playing national anthems,” the email dated on last Saturday read.

The Hong Kong ice hockey body broke their silence on Tuesday shortly after Chief Executive John Lee warned on Sunday that local sports groups could be sanctioned if they did not comply with guidelines in place to ensure the correct version of the national anthem is played at international sporting events.

Chief Executive John Lee attending the Legislative Council question and answer session on January 19, 2023.
Chief Executive John Lee. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The SF&OC had criticised the hockey body earlier by saying it was “evasive” about when or how the correct version of the anthem was provided. The federation also pointed the finger at Kwan for not insisting on checking the national anthem after the organiser ignored their initial request, saying “appropriate sanctions” should be imposed upon the association.

In its latest statement released on Tuesday, the SF&OC said it “absolutely recognised” the ice hockey team’s contribution in the competition and their prompt response follow the anthem error. Players followed new guidelines which insist athletes make the “time out” gesture if the wrong song is played. But reports from the association did not mention whether the national anthem was handed to the organiser on a computer hard disk or USB drive, it said, adding that the federation requested meetings with the management of the ice hockey body but did not receive a “direct reply.”

The ice hockey association confirmed that Kwan gave a statement to the police last Wednesday regarding the blunder. When asked to provide updates on its investigation and whether any arrest would be made, police told HKFP on Tuesday that their probe was still ongoing and did not give further comment.

Anthem saga

The national anthem saga began last November when the song associated with the 2019 extradition bill protests was heard at South Korea’s Rugby Sevens instead of the national anthem. Asia Rugby President Qais Abdulla Al Dhalai later flew 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 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.

Glory to Hong Kong was mislabelled twice as the “national anthem of Hong Kong” in televised footage at subsequent rugby events in the days that followed.

The government asked a search engine to pin the correct information about the national anthem at the top of their search results. The Innovation, Technology and industry Bureau told local media on Tuesday that it was “enhancing” government webpages including adjusting keywords and adding text titles to boost their search ranking.

When HKFP searched for “Hong Kong national anthem” in English using incognito browsing mode on Tuesday, the top result was a video of the protest song, next to a Wikipedia page that stated that March of the Volunteers was the national anthem of Hong Kong.

The authorities have refused to say if the Glory to Hong Kong is illegal, though it is banned in schools and police have intervened when it is played in public.

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Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.