Hong Kong’s women’s ice hockey team scored a historic win at an international tournament on Sunday. Their victory was celebrated by Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung and Hong Kong’s top sports federation, weeks after they blasted the city’s ice hockey body over a national anthem blunder in February.

Hong Kong Women's Ice Hockey Team won in Romania
Hong Kong women’s ice hockey team scored historic victory in Romania on Sunday. Photo: HKIHA.

After winning four out of five games at the Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III – Group A, hosted in Romania, the Hong Kong team were crowned champions out of the six-team line-up. The victory earned them a promotion to a higher division at next year’s event.

The Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association (HKIHA) thanked Hongkongers for their support towards ice hockey players as they announced the tournament’s results to the press. It added that their team leader Annie Kwan “burst into tears” after learning that the team had made history.

“I want to tell the government, we very much understand that the national anthem is more important than everything. The chief executive and other officials can be rest assured, I will check [the anthem] again before the awarding ceremony begin,” Kwan said in a voice recording shared among the press by the HKIHA.

In a separate statement sent on Monday, Kwan said the organiser of the women’s competition had initially downloaded the wrong national anthem for Hong Kong. “But fortunately, the organiser allowed us to check before starting the competition,” she added.

Anthem blunder saga

In February, when Kwan was leading the men’s ice hockey team to compete in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the protest song Glory to Hong Kong was played instead of China’s March of the Volunteers after the Hong Kong players triumphed over their Iranian counterparts.

It was at least the fifth such incident involving the wrong song being played at an international sporting event in recent months. 

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee called the mishap “unacceptable,” whereas the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China (SF&OC) criticised HKIHA’s leadership over “failings” of communication and cooperation.

Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China.
Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The SF&OC warned last Tuesday that it would suspend the ice hockey body’s membership if the HKIHA could not provide a “full written explanation” about its “non-compliance… to handle the national anthem in a dignified manner” within a month.

Sports minister Kevin Yeung told RTHK on Saturday that the government agreed with the top sports committee about there being problems with the HKIHA’s attitude and governance.

Yeung added that the government might cut HKIHA’s funding if it could not come up with improvement plans that would be accepted by the SF&OC. However, he said the authorities would ensure it would not affect the training and competitiveness of athletes.

Meanwhile, an ice hockey player had said it would be “unreasonable” to punish the HKIHA, as the anthem blunder was made by the match’s organiser. The HKIHA also said it had complied with SF&OC’s requirements on the handling of the national anthem all along, and felt “disrespected” by the sporting federation.

Celebration by official and SF&OC

Despite the ongoing national anthem mishap saga, Yeung congratulated the performance of the women’s ice hockey team in a Monday statement.

Kelvin Yeung Chris Sun Vincent Liu mirror
​The Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, Kevin Yeung. File photo: Lea Mok/HKFP

“With its excellent performance, the Hong Kong women’s ice hockey team outperformed its best results in the past and reached new heights,” the minister said.

In a Facebook post published on Monday morning, the SF&OC also celebrated the women’s ice hockey team’s success and thanked the athletes as well as their training teams.

“The SF&OC will continue as always to fully support Hong Kong athlete’s training and competition, and work with different sporting associations to improve the level of sports development,” it added.

Neither Yeung nor the SF&OC mentioned the national anthem incident in their statements.

Last December, the wrong anthem was played at Dubai’s Asian Classic Powerlifting Championship on prompting statements from the authorities. However, no officials nor the government offered congratulations to local gold medallist Susanna Lin.

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.

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.

Glory to Hong Kong
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.

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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.