Hong Kong’s sports minister has ordered the city’s top sports federation to put an end to a national anthem row by punishing the ice hockey association and coming up with measures to improve governance issues amid an escalating war of words between the two bodies.
Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung sounded the call on Sunday, a day after the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, and the Hong Kong Ice Hockey Association intensified their verbal wrangling.
In February, a protest song was played instead of the Chinese national anthem after Hong Kong beat Iran 11-1 at the 2023 Ice Hockey World Championship in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At the centre of the saga was whether an association staff member had attempted to provide a USB drive with the national anthem to the organisers.
“It is an obvious fact the association did not fully follow the guidelines to adopt sufficient measures to ensure that organisers would correctly play the national anthem. They had also admitted this in the report submitted,” Yeung said.
“I am asking the federation to work with the association to address the governance issues as soon as possible. They should discuss each of the problems in detail, and identify and implement proposals for improvements, as well as submit a report to the government as soon as possible.”
Yeung said the federation was responsible for overseeing the governance of affiliated and publicly funded associations and the government must ensure that taxpayers’ money was well spent.
The anthem blunder took place after a song linked to the 2019 anti-government protests in Hong Kong was played at the February event, with athletes signalling for the tune to be cut as soon as they realised it was the wrong track.
The report, submitted by the federation in March, said Annie Kwan Yuen-yee, leader of the ice hockey team, did not follow up on a request to ask the event organiser to check the national anthem beforehand.
But the association hit back in a written reply on Thursday that Kwan had made six attempts to give a USB drive with the national anthem to tournament staff, but in vain. The association said the relevant staff could not be located or the chief of competition refused to take the USB drive because he thought he already had a correct copy.
The federation rejected the association’s explanations, triggering a new round of arguments, with the association countering on Friday and Saturday.
Association chairman Mike Kan Yeung-kit said in a 2,000-word rebuke issued late on Friday night that he could “no longer stay silent” after witnessing how the federation’s honorary secretary general Edgar Yang Joe-tsi had handled the matter.
Kan accused Yang, also the commandant of the Hong Kong Auxiliary Police Force, of interrogating Kwan in a threatening manner, saying it was similar to how authorities behaved in the 1960s, instead of sorting out the incident with her. He also accused the federation’s chief of not respecting the athletes’ efforts on the ice.
The federation has rejected all the accusations.
Minister Yeung on Sunday appealed to both sides to work together and seek resolutions for the sake of the sport and athletes.
“As sports associations use taxpayers’ money for operations, they have an important responsibility, their good governance is essential. Without it, the efforts of athletes will go to waste and the promotion of the sport will be hindered,” he warned.
Yeung added that the government supported the federation in getting to the bottom of the matter through investigations, while the association should be held accountable and had to cooperate.
The fiasco was the latest in a string of similar blunders, including one at a rugby match between Hong Kong and South Korea last November, prompting the government to issue related protocols to every sports group in the city.
Under the guidelines, leaders of sports teams are required to hand over a hard copy of the anthem and a city flag to the event organiser with official confirmation before the game and a check at the venue.
Those who breach the rules risk sanctions, including suspension of National Sports Association membership and loss of subvention or funding from the government.