A top official at the football regulatory body has said that the harshest punishment the Hong Kong team may face will be a loss of points should fans continue to boo the national anthem.
Hong Kong beat Laos 4-0 during a friendly match last Thursday night at the Mong Kok Stadium. Some fans booed during the Chinese national anthem, whilst raised their middle finger during the ceremony.
Pui Kwan-kay, vice-chair of the Hong Kong Football Association, said there were representatives from the Asian Football Confederation at the match, but he was not certain whether they viewed the incident as serious or not.
The Association has been fined twice in the past as a result of supporters apparently booing the anthem. It received fines of 5,000 and 10,000 Swiss francs respectively – a total of HK$120,000.
Pui said other potential punishments may include fines, matches conducted behind closed-doors, or even the Hong Kong side being deprived of points: “We cannot rule out any possibilities.”
“We can only urge fans do not boo the anthem. This is irrational – from our view, it is not helping us,” Pui said.
China’s legislative body approved a new law in early September that will criminalise insulting the national anthem, March of the Volunteers. It took effect on National Day on October 1. A version of it is expected to be rolled out in Hong Kong, if approved.
Pui said he supports the enactment of the law locally, but added that it was only a minority of fans who booed and they will not be banned from matches for now.
“It is difficult for the Hong Kong Football Association to implement [the bans] with our resources,” Pui said.
He said that it will be up to law enforcement agencies as whether to ban such fans from matches, after the law was enacted: “If they break the law, the faces of these trouble-making fans will be shown via our television cameras,” he said.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung said the incident may speed up the legislation of the national anthem law.
She said the booing was unfortunate and she did not understand why young people would insult the national anthem to express discontent.
“But I can only say for now that we do not have local legislation – it is not illegal [to boo the anthem],” she said. “Unless there is an announcement about retroactively implementing the law… It will be very complicated, as the basic principle of the common law is that there is no retroactive power.”
She also said that local legislation will be adjusted according to Hong Kong’s situation and that the national law will not be implemented in its entirety.
Hong Kong will face Malaysia in an Asian Cup 2019 qualifier match on Tuesday night.