Hong Kong sports teams pressed to put ‘China’ in their name


Hong Kong sports associations have been ordered to include “China” in their names or risk losing funding and rights to represent the city if the directive is not followed.

Sports bodies were told to comply in July, the Sports Federation and the Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, he told the Washington Post on Friday. Those who could not could lose state funding, which, as the city’s Institute for Culture, Sports and Tourism said in an email, depends on membership in the committee.

The letter, officials said, was sent to sports organizations in the city this week and was aimed at those without the word “China” in their name, which would include the 109-year-old Hong Kong Football Association and the Hong Kong Kong Rugby Union. Only about a quarter of the 83 sports organizations listed on the board’s website do so.

The International Olympic Committee emphasized that the city’s Olympic Committee uses “Hong Kong, China” in its name. “This name was adopted more than twenty years ago,” an IOC spokesperson said in an email to The Post.

Without committee membership, teams and their athletes could lose the opportunity to compete in the Olympics, Asian Games or other international events.

The renaming directive concerns more than the words on the jersey. The sport has become political football in Hong Kong: its athletes compete as Hong Kong teams, under the Hong Kong flag, even though the former British colony was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” framework that allows the city to maintain its own passports and currency.

Local fans root for Hong Kong teams, and were once so adamant about booing the Chinese national anthem during soccer matches that Hong Kong passed a law against it in 2020. When fans erupted in celebration after Hong Kong won a rare Olympic gold in 2021, a resident who was watching the game in a shopping mall was arrested for disrespecting the Chinese national anthem, according to local media.

Hong Kong authorities are increasingly concerned about symbolism at sporting events. When overseas organizers accidentally played the pro-democracy protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” during a flag-raising ceremony, they drew condemnation from Hong Kong’s leader and police; city ​​officials even tried to force Google to bury the song in search results.

The accidental revival of a protest song in Hong Kong has angered the authorities

The latest directive could cause dozens of sports clubs to change their names. The city’s Olympic Committee said in an email that the use of “Hong Kong, China” in the names was “in accordance with the spirit of Article 149 of the Basic Law”, citing an ambiguously worded section in Hong Kong’s “mini constitution”.

The directive is “really intended to strengthen the sense of national identity towards China”, He said Tobias Zuser, a lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who studies sports and culture.

Zuser notes that sport has become a platform for political expression. “At football matches with the Hong Kong national team, the fans themselves are very receptive to the opportunity to express a different identity from China,” he said.

Cheering for a regional team is the “last chance” to express local pride, Zuser said. At a soccer game, “10,000 people will be chanting, ‘Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong,’ and that wouldn’t happen anywhere else but in a stadium,” he said. Protests have been limited since mass pro-democracy protests in 2019 and the passage of a national security law a year later.

When Hong Kong won an unprecedented six medals at the 2021 Olympics, “it really resonated with Hongkongers at the time,” Zuser said. “I think regardless of their political views, they felt that there was a certain kind of investment in Hong Kong, as well as pride that little Hong Kong has athletes competing and winning these competitions.”

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