Planet China

Crowd control

An inglorious record for Hong Kong football was set in 2003 when only 24 tickets were sold for a top division league game (it was between Rangers and Hong Kong Football Club). Low attendances since have meant that the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) has been mired by hefty losses in recent years. So the HKFA was relieved when it escaped with only a small fine this week, rather than see the team that represents Hong Kong in international competitionsforced to play games in an empty stadium – especially since an upcoming home match is set to attract a lucrative full house.

The HKFA was given a CHF5,000 ($5,141) fine by FIFA after local fans booed the Chinese national anthem (and threw lemon tea onto the pitch) during the World Cup qualifier against Qatar last month. The Chinese anthem – March of the Volunteers – is also that of Hong Kong. But social and political tension between the former British colony and mainland China has been brewing for a while, and one form of protest for Hong Kong fans has been drowning out the anthem at international games, even though FIFA has warned of possible sanctions.

After escaping with the light penalty, the HKFA said the Hong Kong team can now focus on preparing for the upcoming qualifiers, including the home game with the Chinese national side on November 17. Hongkongers have promised to pack the stadium after the away leg ended in a goalless draw (see WiC295). A disappointing 1-0 loss against Qatar this week means that winning that game will be crucial for China’s hopes of qualifying for the final stages of the World Cup in Russia in three years time.

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