The Hong Kong government will ask the city’s top sporting committee to punish the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association (HKIHA) for failing to “thoroughly follow” national anthem guidelines which led to an anthem mix-up at a recent international match, the city’s sports minister has said.

Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung meeting the press on April 24, 2023 for the Happy Hong Kong campaign.
Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The anthem mishap occurred on February 28 when the Hong Kong ice hockey team beat Iran at an international event in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The protest song Glory to Hong Kong was played in place of the Chinese national anthem March of the Volunteers after the match.

Meeting the press on Sunday before leaving for an event in mainland China’s Hainan province, the Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung said it was “an obvious fact” that the ice hockey body “did not thoroughly follow the guidelines and adopt sufficient measures to ensure the organiser played the correct national anthem.”

“They admitted this point in their submitted report,” Yeung added.

The HKIHA said in its submission last Thursday that their team leader’s anthem-verifying attempts “may not have been sufficient.”

But the report argued that the criticisms by the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China (SF&OC) over HKIHA’s “evasiveness” in communication and “failing” to present the national anthem in a dignified manner were “unjustified.”

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.

Citing how the ice hockey body successfully prevented the host of a later match in Romania from playing the wrong anthem, Yeung told reporters on Sunday it proved that mix-ups could be prevented if guidelines were stuck to.

“We will request the SF&OC to issue an appropriate punishment over their failure to thoroughly comply with the guidelines,” the sports minister said, without suggesting what type of punishment was warranted.

“We have to cherish our special status which allows us to compete in international events under the name of ‘Hong Kong, China’, and fulfil our duty to ensure proper respect is shown towards the national anthem. This is the due responsibility of us, the SF&OC, as well as every sports association, coach, team leader and athlete,” Yeung added.

The sports minister also urged the SF&OC and HKIHA to work together and solve the problems that had been identified within the ice hockey body’s corporate governance.

Guidelines

The ice hockey anthem mishap was the fifth such incident to have occurred in recent months.

Last November, the SF&OC released new guidelines requiring each sporting association to carry two sets of government-approved anthems and regional flags when they compete overseas. The teams have been asked to obtain signed confirmation from event organisers that the correct song has been received.

The ice hockey body has been repeatedly criticised by the SF&OC for not addressing whether a hard copy of the national anthem was given to the organiser at Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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.

In a statement released last Friday, Honorary Secretary General of HKIHA Annie Kwan said she had prepared a USB drive loaded with the national anthem.

However, she said she did not have the drive at hand when she first met the relevant person. When they met for the second time, a member of the event organiser’s staff said they already had a copy of the anthem and had not received Kwan’s copy.

‘Interrogation’

Yeung’s comment came after around two months of debate between the HKIHA and the SF&OC over whether the ice hockey body had committed any wrongdoings, and whether the top sports federation respected the city’s ice hockey players.

After submitting the final report on Thursday explaining what had happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the chairperson of HKIHA Kan Yeung-kit released a statement in the late hours of Friday saying he “can no longer remain silent” after seeing Edgar Yang of the SF&OC “continuously handle the incident with an attitude as if he is interrogating suspects with high pressure [tactics].”

Kan said their team leader Kwan would not have omitted any details when she was questioned by the SF&OC if the sports federation had not adopted “scare tactics used for suspect interrogations in the 1960s.”

“As the commandant of the Hong Kong Auxiliary Police Force, the Honorary Secretary General Yang [of SF&OC] should have known what details the person under investigation needed to provide,” Kan said. Yang should have proactively helped Kwan to recall the details when much about the incident was initially unknown or unclear, Kan added.

The HKIHA leader also said that during their meeting with the SF&OC, Yang had asked how many teams were in the line-up when Kan told them about the ice hockey team’s results in recent international matches.

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

“Generally speaking, when someone tells you they place second in a match, shouldn’t you congratulate them? Why would you ask: How many teams were there?” Kan said.

In addition, Kan said Yang and other representatives of the SF&OC had told them “how much trouble could a six-team line-up be? Let’s sit and drink beer” – which made Kan and other HKIHA members feel “very disrespected.”

‘False speeches’

On Saturday morning, the SF&OC fired back and said it strongly opposed and was unhappy with the HKIHA’s “false claims” in a statement.

“What the HKIHA said jumbled together the identity of SF&OC’s honorary secretary general with his role as the commandant of the auxiliary police, twisted enquiries into interrogations and created a negative image of the SF&OC. It was regrettable,” the Saturday statement read.

The sports federations added that Kan was the top decision-maker for his sporting association, but Kan had “never responded to SF&OC’s enquiries over the national anthem blunder, or explain the matter publicly, before March 23.”

The SF&OC had earlier denied that its members had made “disrespectful” remarks against athletes.

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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.