Hong Kong’s ice hockey body has called allegations made by the city’s top sporting committee that it placed insufficient importance on ensuring the correct anthem was played at a recent international match “unjustified.”

Ice Hockey Match Hong Kong Iran National anthem blunder
The protest song Glory to Hong Kong was heard instead of China’s Marches of the People during an ice hockey match between Hong Kong and Iran on February 28. Photo: Screenshot, via Hokejaški Savez Bosne i Hercegovine.

The anthem mishap occurred on February 28 after the Hong Kong team beat their Iranian opponents at an ice hockey match in Bosnia and Herzegovina, when the protest song Glory to Hong Kong was played instead of China’s national anthem – which is also that of Hong Kong – the March of the Volunteers.

Last month, the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China (SF&OC) criticised the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association (HKIHA) for being “unwilling and evasive” in its communications and for placing “insufficient importance” on ensuring the correct song was played and upholding the country’s dignity.

The SF&OC added that it would suspend the ice hockey body’s membership if it did not produce a “full” explanation over its “non-compliance.”

In its latest and final report over the incident submitted to the SF&OC on Thursday, the ice hockey body said it considered the top sporting committee’s claims to be “very serious allegations,” but that each was “seriously refuted and protested one by one” in its submission.

The ice hockey association said it “must admit and confess once again” that the attempts made by team leader Annie Kwan in February to verify the correct national anthem was played may not have been sufficient and must be improved, “no matter how unintentional and how busily engaged Ms. Kwan may be during the said Event.” Kwan also holds the title of honorary secretary general of the association.

However, it said insufficient attempts to check the anthem “is entirely not equivalent to” failing to handle or present the national anthem “in a dignified manner.”

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

The HKIHA also said it “has made its best endeavors” in replying to the SF&OC’s requests, adding that it had never refused to communicate or provide details.

“[T]he HKIHA has all along abided [by] the spirit of proper respect to the National Anthem… therefore any unjustified allegation against the HKIHA to the practical effect that HKIHA has presented the National Anthem not in a dignified manner is considered on our part as particularly offensive and will be protested vigorously on the part of the HKIHA,” the ice hockey body added.

In response to HKFP’s enquiry, the SF&OC confirmed that it had received the report from HKIHA on Thursday evening. It said it was currently reviewing the report and would call for a board meeting to discuss the matter “at an appropriate time.”

Speaking on Friday afternoon, Edgar Yang, honorary secretary general of SF&OC, said that he had “no choice” but to “come out and clarify” after receiving the HKIHA’s report.

He said he was left more disappointed after receiving the report, and that the HKIHA had continuously made false accusations towards the SF&OC.

The SF&OC said in a separate press statement on Friday afternoon that it had based its criticisms of the HKIHA’s “evasive attitude” on “objective facts.” It said the chairperson of the ice hockey body Kan Yeung-kit had not responded to Yang’s messages between March 5 and March 10, or agreed to meet with the SF&OC until over three weeks after the anthem incident.

The top sporting committee also said the HKIHA had evaded “key questions,” such as when and where they gave a hard copy of the national anthem to the event organiser, until their March 20 report.

The statement added that the ice hockey association had been releasing details of the incident to the press without officially notifying the SF&OC. “We believe the public will have their own judgements as to whether such an approach by the HKIHA amounts to good communication or cooperation,” it wrote.

6 unsuccessful attempts

According to the HKIHA’s report, Kwan had made a total of six attempts to check if the organisers of the ice hockey event in Bosnia and Herzegovina had the correct anthem in the three days leading up to the match against Iran, all of which were unsuccessful.

However, Kwan was told by a member of staff that the organiser already had a copy of the Hong Kong team’s anthem.

ice hockey womens team
HKIHA’s Honorary Secretary General Annie Kwan (fifth left) and the Hong Kong’s women’s ice hockey team at Hong Kong International Airport on April 11, 2023. File photo: Supplied.

In March, the organiser offered its “deepest apology,” calling the anthem mishap “an honest human mistake.”

Kwan said in the Thursday report that her experience could be taken as “a lesson on the practical difficulties that may be encountered in practice” by any Hong Kong sporting association at international events.

Proposed improvements

The HKIHA also attached a proposal on improvements to its corporate governance to its report, as requested by the SF&OC.

The association proposed writing down the respective roles and responsibilities of its chairperson and board members in its articles, which currently only state the roles of the honorary secretary and honorary treasurer.

The minimum board meeting attendance rate and proceedings for the disqualification of board members would also be added to the HKIHA’s statute.

The changes are expected to be implemented by July 15, the ice hockey body said.

Correction 8/5/2023: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the HKIHA said its attempts to verify the national anthem “may have been sufficient.” The ice hockey association’s report in fact said those attempts “may not have been sufficient.” We regret the error.

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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.