HONG KONG: The president of Asia Rugby apologised in person in Hong Kong on Tuesday (Nov 22) after a democracy protest song was played instead of the Chinese national anthem at a South Korean tournament, the city’s government said.
Hong Kong police also said they would press charges against a local man for making “seditious” online posts that included thanking South Korea for the anthem mix-up.
The city’s sports teams play the Chinese national anthem but the protest song was broadcast before Hong Kong played South Korea in the final of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series in Incheon on November 13.
The Hong Kong government reacted with fury, with the city’s leader John Lee ordering a police probe and the number two official meeting South Korea’s top diplomat to request Seoul conduct its own investigation.
It said in a statement on Tuesday Qais Abdulla Al Dhalai, the president of Asia Rugby, flew to the city to apologise to Chief Secretary Chan Kwok-ki.
“He said that the incident was due to a human error, entirely without any political or malicious intent, from a junior member of the local organiser concerned,” the statement said.
Dhalai also undertook that all tournament organisers must obtain the national anthems of competing teams from a centralised archive managed by Asia Rugby.
A statement by Asia Rugby offering the same explanation last week failed to mollify many critics, including some nationalist legislators who called for the disbanding of Hong Kong’s rugby team.
Two other anthem mix-ups were found in the past week at Rugby World Cup matches this month and in July, when the correct anthem was played but the protest song’s title appeared on screen.
The protest song “Glory to Hong Kong”, written by an anonymous composer in 2019, urges residents to strive for freedom and democracy.
It became a rallying cry during huge and sometimes violent protests that year but has since been declared effectively illegal by Hong Kong authorities.
Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong to quell dissent after the 2019 protests and created a new national security unit within the Hong Kong police to enforce it.
The national security police arrested a 42-year-old man on Monday on suspicion of acting with “seditious intent” by making online posts they said incited others “to insult the national anthem”.
The man reposted a video clip of the incident at Incheon tournament and thanked South Korea for “recognising Hong Kong’s anthem”, local media reported.
Police said the man would appear in court on Wednesday.
Once a little-used hangover from Hong Kong’s colonial days, the offence of sedition has been embraced anew in recent years and treated as a national security crime.