Hong Kong activists seeking independence from Beijing staged a live screening of an Olympic badminton match between the territory and China Friday, to boost the home team as sport in the city becomes increasingly political.
Some residents have complained that main free-to-air local channel TVB, which is broadcasting the Olympics and is seen as pro-Beijing, has been giving too much airtime to the Chinese national team, rather than Hong Kong.
In response, pro-independence activists streamed the match between Hong Kong mixed doubles pair Chau Hoi-wah and Reginald Lee, and China‘s Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei, to at least 200 supporters crammed into a side street in the middle of the bustling Mong Kok commercial district Friday evening.
The city’s independence movement is gaining support, particularly among young campaigners, as fears grow that Beijing is tightening its grip on semi-autonomous Hong Kong.
Mong Kok was the scene of violent clashes between police and protesters in February, including some activists from the “localist” movement, which is seeking more distance from the mainland.
But Friday night’s gathering was peaceful, with supporters cheering and clapping the Hong Kong pair.
Although they lost in two sets in under an hour, the crowd were unperturbed, shouting “We are Hong Kong!” repeatedly before dispersing.
It is the latest political turn for sport in the city.
Football matches between Hong Kong and China have become more emotive, with the local side fined twice by FIFA after its fans booed the Chinese national anthem at international matches last year.
“Nowadays, Hong Kong people think their players are more important than the Chinese players. We have an independent team in the Olympic Games — TVB should make more effort to broadcast our players,” said student Chan Kwan-nin, 19, who watched the screening and said he supported the independence movement.
“I think sport is a political thing…we can’t divide politics and sport,” he added.
One pro-independence activist who helped organise the screening said it was meant primarily as entertainment.
However, he predicted protests and rallies could take a violent turn again in the future.
“I can see it (outbreaks of violence) happening again, if the Hong Kong government and the Chinese government keep persecuting our people,” he said, giving his name only as Roland.
Support for the independence movement has surged since five of its candidates were banned from standing in upcoming legislative elections, in what critics have slammed as political censorship.
The growth of localism, and new calls for self-determination and independence, grew out of frustration among many young activists at the failure of mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014 to win any political reforms from Beijing.