During the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests in 2019, a song called “Glory to Hong Kong” was the unofficial anthem of the protesters. But, under the current national security law, the song is taboo for its lyrics and association with the protests. In 2020, the local government also passed a law banning insults to the Chinese national anthem, “March of the Volunteers.” And last week, a Hong Kong court sentenced the first person convicted under that law to three months in jail for waving a colonial-era flag at an event in Hong Kong for the Tokyo Olympics.
On Sunday, the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens men’s team beat South Korea in the final of the second leg of the Asian Rugby Sevens Series in South Korea. But, a clip on social media showed the Hong Kong team standing before the final while an instrumental version of “Glory to Hong Kong” played instead of the national anthem. The correct song was later played during the prize ceremony.
On Monday, a Hong Kong spokesperson issued a statement that the Hong Kong government “strongly deplores and opposes the playing of a song closely associated with violent protests and the ‘independence’ movement in 2019.” Also, the government wants an investigation into the incident. In a statement, Asia Rugby said it “deeply regrets” the incident and that a junior staff member made a mistake by downloading the wrong song.
“The national anthem is a symbol of our country. The organiser of the tournament has a duty to ensure that the national anthem receives the respect it warranted,” said Hong Kong’s spokesperson. “The organiser made a public announcement conveying its apology for the mistake immediately after the game and played the correct national anthem of the People’s Republic of China during the prize presentation ceremony when the Hong Kong team won the final.”
“Asia Rugby and Korea Rugby Union would like to sincerely apologise to the Hong Kong Rugby Union, the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) and the Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for this incident,” wrote Asian Rubgy in a statement. “The incident happened due to a simple human error from a junior member of the local organising committee, playing a song downloaded from the internet instead of the correct anthem.”
“This was surely not a careless mistake. It must be a criminal act with mens rea [criminal intent], and people involved could have constituted sedition under the Crimes Ordinance, as well as secession or collision with foreign forces under the national security law,” wrote Senior counsel Ronny Tong Ka-wah on Facebook.
“They let the country face humiliation. They have completely failed and lost our confidence, and the only solution to this is to disband the team,” said lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu.