HK’s latest fight with China

I don’t usually pay attention to men in shorts running up and down fields. But the event at Mong Kok Stadium last night was different. In theory, it was a pre-pre-pre-qualifying-round World Cup game between two sides with no hope of getting to the big international tournament. In practice, it was another opportunity for the (especially younger) freedom-loving Hong Kong people to defy the creeping totalitarian control China’s Communist regime seems intent on imposing on their city.

That sounds like an absurdly grandiose way to describe fans watching a bunch of guys kicking a soccer ball around, but this is what happens during decidedly weird times.

To my untutored, non-sporting eye, the group of teams in this round was tailor-made to maximize China’s chances (Team Motherland was up against Qatar, Hong Kong, the Maldives and Bhutan – a smaller combined population than Shanghai). And no-one SCMP-Goallessseriously imagines that you could put FIFA and PRC in a room together without some bribing-and-fixing taking place. By all accounts, Xi Jinping’s ‘China Dream’ includes fantasies of World Cup glory. China is supposed to win.

In Hong Kong, the context – we hardly need remind ourselves – is the pre- and post-Umbrella Movement malevolence unleashed by Beijing’s United Front in 2014-15: broken promises on democracy, smears, intimidation, abuse of power. And the ongoing backlash: anti-smuggler protests, anti-MTR protests, localism, cynicism, hostility to Hong Kong and Mainland authorities.

In earlier games, Hong Kong fans had jeered the Chinese (thus also Hong Kong’s) national anthem. No-one in polite society – government, media or sports governing bodies – could acknowledge this for what it was: a highly public and unambiguous symbolic rejection of the Communist regime’s sovereignty over this city. They could only splutter angrily about rudeness and insults. FIFA (a sports bureaucracy that lusts after Mainland royalties and kickbacks) levied a fine on the local football governing body. The Hong Kong government went into full freak-out mode, deeming local soccer fans to be a subversive enemy force no less than, and indeed part of, the Umbrella/pan-dem/pro-independence/Johannes Chan/CIA coalition of evil. And rightly so.

As part of the big clampdown on the Great Booing Soccer Fan Threat, the government got last night’s game switched to the smallest venue it could use, angering old folks and others who couldn’t get tickets. It also planned a vast police presence in the area and reiterated warnings about bag-searches and booing. It is a classic CY Leung tactic: persuading people by massively and gratuitously pissing them off in every way you can devise. Thousands watched the action in a spirit of festive, communal solidarity on outdoor TVs.

There were boos (plus a moment of silence for Paris). Scurrilous wit being an invaluable weapon in this asymmetric clash of cultures and values, the local supporters at the stadium carried banners with the word ‘BOO’. They shouted in Cantonese and English, while (segregated) Mainland fans used Mandarin. The home crowd carried banners saying ‘HK is not China’ and ‘Fight for HK’, which say one thing if ‘HK’ means a sports team, another if it means a place, community or people. CY Leung refrained from expressing support specifically for the Hong Kong team in this match against the sovereign nation. To add to the ingredients, it is a multiracial line-up, hard to envisage in a ‘China’ team.

Obviously, many spectators were eagerly following the game as a sport, in which goal crossbars apparently played a crucial role. But it is hard to ignore the overriding political symbolism. Afterwards, the Hong Kong players bowed to their delighted fans. But Hong Kong had not won. Depending on your political stance, the cup is half-empty or half-full…


For freedom-loving Hongkongers, the main outcome of the 0-0 result is that China’s hopes are dashed – it is almost certainly out of the World Cup. Courtesy of your adoring Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which you are currently trying to trash. It was a pleasure.

I used the phrase ‘decidedly weird times’ above. Try this… The widespread assumption is that last night’s game was switched from the 40,000-seat HK Stadium to the 6,700-seat Mong Kok one to – as the South China Morning Post put it – avoid offending the motherland. A subsequent SCMP report apologized and said the authorities weren’t making it up, and the field was genuinely unfit to play on. Only in Hong Kong circa 2015 will you read an update about playing-field turf and instantly assume that an editor enforcing the Communist Party line has ordered it to appear.


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19 Responses to HK’s latest fight with China

  1. Gooddog says:

    I can’t describe enough how much I love this and love these Hong Kongers. Sticking it to the man. Great stuff.

  2. Dawei says:

    The continued determination and ingenuity of Hong Kong people to make bold statements in the face of outright hostility from the local town council, the united front, press and rich carpetbaggers is truly admirable.

    If the chaps across the boundary had just let HKers alone to get on with their own lives, all they would have to content with is explaining away how HK has universal suffrage and everyone else does not, instead they are left with a radicalized population that at its best disrupts some mainland shoppers and at its worst (from their point of view) gives mainland visitors some idea of what they could try at home someday.

  3. Revolution says:

    If the pitch at Hong Kong Stadium was “genuinely unfit to play on” – which might be true due to its appalling condition generally – this was because the Stadium was used to host some Rugby Sevens qualifiers the weekend before last. The crowds for this were very small, and could easily have been accommodated at, say Mongkok or Siu Sai Wan Stadium, but it was a convenient excuse to prevent 30,000+ people booing the National Anthem.

    There was widespread booing of the National Anthem at last years Argentina friendly, attended by about 20,000, but Occupy was still on then and presumably the Government had other stuff to worry about.

    And Hemlock – despite its size, Qatar is the class team of the group, and FIFA have more interest in them qualifying than China, as it adds a small layer of legitimacy to awarding them the tournament in 2022.

  4. Ron Knee says:

    We was definitely robbed.

  5. Regislea says:

    Hong Kong gave 110%, the ref was biassed, and I’m as sick as a parrot that we didn’t win.

    Actually, I haven’t read a report of the match or seen any of it.

    Will this do?

  6. Stephen says:

    Watched in a pub, so maybe wrong, but did TVB transmission start after the National Anthem was played (booed) ? More subtle censorship.

  7. FunB3 says:

    At what point will China start wondering why this is happening & start questioning the advice they are getting from a narrow, self serving group?

  8. Finally, a mention on Big Lychee.

    My ‘apology’ to the LCSD mentioned in the last paragraph was more than a bit ironic, as I thought should have been clear from reading the article.

    There was certainly no interference from editors.

    The assessment that the pitch would indeed have been unfit to host the Hong Kong China game was proved correct – but that is a reflection of the incompetence of the LCSD and Jockey Club ‘experts’ who installed a sub-par product. Again

    Even had they installed a perfect pitch, I believe somebody in power would have found some excuse not to have held the game at Hong Kong Stadium for fear of offending China.

  9. Bert says:

    Yes, Fifa definitely fixed the qualification draw to help China, and Communist elements in SCMP made the reporter pen a heartfelt apology for suggesting the playing surface had nothing to do with moving the match.

    Conspiracy theorising bunkum

  10. Joe Blow says:

    Why does anyone still read the Pro China Morning Rag ?

    Why does anyone still write for the Pro China Morning Puke ?

  11. LRE says:

    Say what you like about the Hong Kong National Anthem, it does have refreshingly simple, multiculturally accessible lyrics that everyone can remember:
    Boooooooo.” (repeat)

  12. Dirty Gerty from No. 30 says:

    Last nite, for the first time in many moons, I plugged in and switched on my TV set. They said that the match was on TVB. I checked through all my channels (4) but no soccer in sight. Inadvertently I bumped into Chugani, interviewing Zimmermann. Neither had anything to say, I concluded after 30 seconds, and I switched off, returning to good old Twitter.

    Question: does Chugani have a bee in his bonnet, a chip on his shoulder or is he just a sad, irrelevant has-been (like Christine-friend Zimmermann) ?

    Answers on a postcard.

  13. pie-chucker says:

    Perhaps we should recognise that Hong Kong plays as a separate entity to China.

    In what might be called the highlight sports of soccer and rugby. And in cricket: Hong Kong thrashed the UAE again today.

  14. Booooooo says:


    And Hemlock – despite its size, Qatar is the class team of the group, and FIFA have more interest in them qualifying than China, as it adds a small layer of legitimacy to awarding them the tournament in 2022.

    Every bizarre notion under the sun is entertained by someone somewhere. For example, suggesting FIFA is more concerned about the perception of its governance being “legitimate” rather than it attempting to court 1.2 billion potential new football fans.


  15. Chinese Netizen says:

    Chugani is a self loathing butterfly That no one wants permanently: USA despising American citizen, South Asian who thinks he’s above the riff raff, longtime HK resident who must continually feed what’s so obviously wrong to ensure he gets renewal and further relevance.
    The worst kind of sellout. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then Chugani’s brand of “expat” is the worst example of carpetbagging douchery.

  16. LRE says:

    @dirty gerty

    Oh my, if you think there are still only 4 channels free to air, it’s been more than several moons.

    Firstly TV went digital a few years ago, so now there’s Pearl, Jade, J2, Jade HD, and TVB News. The football was on J2, no doubt displacing some Japanese soap or anime.

    There’s also ATV — but they basically show CCTV channels and 80s soaps, variety shows and beauty pageants none of which deserves repeating. ATV World has now been officially declared a form of torture by the UN and has been banned under the Geneva Convention. As for it’s news channel — well suffice it to say that if you get sacked from there for some dumb intern move like running a false story about the death of a Chinese politbureau member and former chairman, the only place to go is the SCMP. (Subtitles for the hard of thinking: Yes, Tammy Tam, that’s you we’re talking about.)

    There’s also an RTHK channel, but I can’t seem to pick that one up, without having to fiddle with my aerial, which I am loathe to do. Maybe next typhoon…

    As to Chugani’s interview technique — I am tempted to recall Dennis Healey’s epithet placed on Geoffrey Howe: “It’s like being savaged by a dead sheep.”

  17. @Gerty – welcome to the digital world – instead of just 4 channels of garbage, you can now have hundreds if you are so inclined, and watch the match on one of them (J2).

  18. Nimby says:

    “FIFA (a sports bureaucracy that lusts after Mainland royalties and kickbacks) levied a fine on the local football governing body.” So FIFA fined an monopoly arm of a branck of the PRC because PRC citizens booed their own national anthem. Now that’s rich, a bunch of crooks fining another set of crooks, as both sets of crooks make most of their money, like the mafia, thanks to government corruption.

  19. RSG says:

    FunB3: “At what point will China start wondering why this is happening & start questioning the advice they are getting from a narrow, self serving group?”

    Not going to happen. PRC will double down on its strategy. It’s Xi’s way or the highway.

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