The Chinese national anthem was met with thunderous boos last night as the city’s pro-democracy campaigners brought their protests to a World Cup qualifying match against Iran last night.
Large crowds of people — some sporting Hong Kong’s red jerseys and others wearing protesters’ favored black T-shirts — filed into Hong Kong Stadium in Causeway Bay last night to watch the match between the home team and Iran.
According to RTHK, before the match started, fans in the stands warmed up by singing Glory To Hong Kong, a song written by an LIHKG user named “Thomas” that has been adopted by anti-government protesters as Hong Kong’s “unofficial national anthem.”
After both teams walked onto the pitch, the Chinese national anthem, March of the Volunteers, was all but drowned out by a deafening chorus of boos as some in crowd flashed thumbs down, and even flipped the bird.
Iran’s anthem, meanwhile, was observed without interruption.
Meanwhile, the Iranian anthem was observed silently pic.twitter.com/tZTMYDhYil
— Jack Hazlewood (@JackHHazlewood) September 10, 2019
At a Hong Kong-Iran World Cup qualifying match, loud boos during the Chinese national anthem pic.twitter.com/sCo5eIXjbp
— Daniel Victor (@bydanielvictor) September 10, 2019
Some also held up banners with political slogans such as “Reclaim Hong Kong, the Revolution of Our Times,” “Stand with Hong Kong,” and, simply, “Boo.” Others waved black Bauhinia flags and Union Jacks.
Security guards at the scene half-heartedly tried to discourage the display of contempt for Beijing, but evidently without much success.
— Jessie Pang (@JessiePang0125) September 10, 2019
After the match ended — with Iran beating Hong Kong 2-0 — fans gathered outside the stadium to form a human chain, a popular protest in recent days following a local homage about to the famed “Baltic Way” human chain about three weeks ago.
The booing incident could see Hong Kong’s Football Association face a possible fine by the global football governing body FIFA, something that has happened following past displays. The HKFA were fined in 2015 and 2016 after fans similarly jeered the Chinese anthem.
Last night’s protest followed a similar one in July in which fans sang the protest anthem Do You Hear the People Sing — from the musical Les Miserables — during a friendly match with Manchester United.
The Chinese central government is especially touchy about insults to its national emblems, including the anthem. While fears over an extradition bill first gave rise to the current protests, another controversial bill currently before the Legislative Council — and similarly cited as evidence of Hong Kong’s eroding freedoms — would criminalize any “disrespect” of March of the Volunteers.
The Beijing-backed national anthem bill was formally introduced in January, and has been a lightning rod for criticism from civil rights advocates, who have called it a blatant violation of freedom of speech.