Hong Kong’s top sports federation has reprimanded, in writing, the city’s ice hockey body over a recent anthem mix-up at an international match. However, there will be no cuts to its funding or suspension of its membership.

The Sports Federation & Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China (SF&OC) added that it would update guidelines and require that teams boycott medal ceremonies at international competitions until they are able to verify – in advance – that the correct anthem is to be used by organisers.

Edgar Yang
Edgar Yang, the honorary secretary general of the SF&OC meets the press on May 18, 2023. Photo: RTHK, via video screenshot.

The anthem blunder in question occurred in February after the Hong Kong’s men’s ice hockey team beat Iran in a match in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Instead of China’s March of the Volunteers, a song popularised during the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest was played – Glory to Hong Kong.

Meeting the press after a board meeting on Thursday, SF&OC’s Honorary Secretary General Edgar Yang said they had decided to issue a “serious written reprimand” instead of a typical warning to the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association (HKIHA) over the mishap.

Yang said the ice hockey body “obviously did not follow” the SF&OC’s guidelines on anthem handling as their team leader did not provide the organiser of the February match with a hard copy of the correct anthem, or check the anthem on-the-spot before it was played.

“The punishment must reflect the seriousness of the anthem blunder, as well as the inadequacies in HKIHA’s method of handling it, and the insufficient significance it attached to the incident,” Yang said, adding that the reprimand would mean the anthem incident “had come to an end.”

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.

When asked by reporters, Yang clarified that the SF&OC’s decision “had nothing to do” with any cuts to HKIHA’s funding or the suspension of its membership.

Last month, the sports federation warned that it could suspend the ice hockey body if it failed to provide a full explanation on the anthem saga.

Yang said on Thursday that he would not say that the SF&OC “let HKIHA off the hook.” He added that the main point for launching the membership suspension mechanism at that time was to allow them to collect more information during a probe.

Anthem checks before award ceremonies

Yang also told reporters that the SF&OC would “improve” its anthem guidelines by requesting that team leaders stop athletes from attending medal ceremonies at international sporting events until organisers agree to let them check the anthem and regional flag.

“This is so important,” he said, as the Hong Kong teams would not be able to control any “external influence.”

“We can only manage ourselves with [a] proactive attitude and actions to make sure that our national anthem or national flag [are] to be properly placed,” Yang said.

At the same time, Yang said the ice hockey body’s suggestions on how to improve its corporate governance earlier this month lacked detail on “core matters” such as the athlete selection mechanism, integrity management and membership system.

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 HKIHA is required to make further submissions within two weeks, by May 31.

Speaking to the press on Thursday afternoon after a legislative meeting, Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung said he supported the SF&OC’s decision.

The sports minister added that it was “completely reasonable and justifiable” for the sports federation to ask the HKIHA to work on its corporate governance.

SF&OC's written reprimand to the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association over anthem blunder by HKFP on Scribd

“It affects the long-term development of our different sports programmes, as well as the training and competition opportunities received by our athletes. Therefore their governance must be good,” Yeung said.

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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.