An all-lose national anthem political game

A political football game kicked off following a national anthem blunder in a match of the city’s ice hockey team in Bosnia in February has turned ugly – and violent.

On last Tuesday (4/4), the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association was shown a yellow card warning of their alleged wrongdoing by the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, which was a key figure in the controversy. The Government, supposedly the referee, threw their weight behind the sports federation’s move. The federation said they had discussed the verdict with government officials before handing it down to the ice hockey association.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the sports federation said the association had one month to provide a “full written explanation” about its “non-compliance… to handle the national anthem in a dignified manner.”

It did not specifically say how the association has failed to comply with the guidelines issued by the federation.

In a statement issued a day after the incident in February, the association said they had “strictly observed” the guidelines, having issued the “official version” to the event organiser, the Ice Hockey Association of Bosnia & Herzegovina.

The European association expressed its “deepest apology” over the error, calling the mishap an “honest human mistake” made by a technician playing the anthems.

One day after the verdict was given, an ice hockey team athlete told journalists he was saddened by the saga as nobody seemed to care about their performance in the real game. He lamented there were no media reports of their success in finishing as second runner-up in the world ice hockey tournament.

The Hong Kong citizens, who are mostly reluctant audiences of the three-side, but unequal, game among the Government, the sports federation and the hockey association, watched with awe and bewilderment of the latest national anthem blunder.

On its face, the hockey association has emerged as the big loser. But the sports federation and the Government gained nothing, but scorn and ridicule.

What a game with no winner, but only losers.

It will be an all-lose game when politics has a place in sport. National anthem blunder grew highly political when Glory to Hong Kong, a song composed during the protests in 2019 was wrongly played when a Hong Kong team was present at an international sporting event.

Despite swift apologies and admission of human/technical mistakes by the relevant organisers for the anthem mishap, the noises of conspiracy theorists and fervent nationalists have prevailed at a time when mainland and SAR officials were full of jitters about what they perceived as national security threats.

Though intrigued by the chorus of wrong songs, the general public has reacted with calm and balance.

Some took a sarcastic view about the mistake as they vented out their anger and frustrations with the after-shock of the 2019 social movement featuring a harsh crackdown against political dissent and independent media. They feel delighted to see those with power red-faced.

Many ordinary citizens reacted with indifference, nevertheless. To them, a mistake is a mistake until it is proved otherwise. All five similar incidents involving the wrong song happened since late last year have not yet proved to be anything with political motives.

Politics has blown the latest anthem blunder out of proportion.

Both the Government and the sports federation were under pressure, of which the bulk was of their own making, to do whatever it takes to punish the wrongdoers and make sure it will not happen again.

Chief Executive John Lee and his minister in charge of sports talked tough and acted harshly to showcase their determination to put upholding national dignity above everything, both in terms of substance and perception.

In their verdict on the hockey association, the sports federation put the blame of its communication and cooperation with the association on their “unwillingness and evasiveness.” The association was accused of “placing insufficient importance on the display of the national anthem and to uphold the dignity of the country.”

Instead of detailing what exactly the association did wrong, the sports body fingered at the attitude of the hockey body in their references to “unwillingness and evasiveness” and “placing insufficient importance” on national anthem.

In a nutshell, the hockey association was “convicted” of failing to comply with the new political demand for sports bodies to place sufficient importance on the display of national anthem. That blood will now be shed is aimed to send a clear and no-nonsense message to all sports associations that they will face serious consequences if the display of the national anthem goes wrong.

Faced with enormous pressure from the Government, the sports federation sought to put the blame squarely on the hockey association as if they have done nothing wrong.

According to a media report, a link of the Chinese national anthem on a mainland website provided by the sports federation for all associations for them to send to the relevant events hosts, was found to have functioned badly. And that could be the reason why certain overseas event organisers had decided to do their own search on the internet, with some ending up picking the wrong one.

Fair play is the essence of sports. It is the worst display of the spirit of sports when a player was wrongly booked for a mistake made by some others.

▌[At Large] About the Author

Chris Yeung is a veteran journalist, a founder and chief writer of the now-disbanded CitizenNews; he now runs a daily news commentary channel on Youtube. He had formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal.