“We are Hong Kong”: Can the Olympic Games bypass the politicization of sport in China? | Hong Kong


Olympic Games | The Guardian

In July, more than 5,000 people gathered at the sides of the APM mall in Hong Kong on a Monday evening. They waved flags and shouted “Hong Kong” on the television. In a shiny new shopping mall in the Kwun Tong industrial district, a giant screen had been raised in the middle of the main hall so that people could watch the Olympics.

Videos from that period showed people huddling against the railing across floors as they watched fencer Edgar Cheung Ka Long win Hong Kong’s first gold medal in 25 years. Throughout the territory, during the Olympics, shopping malls became a kind of town square that was open late into the night.

The Tokyo Olympics were the most successful Hong Kong of all time. The city won six medals, more than all previous Olympic Games combined. Thousands watched Siobhan Haughey win Hong Kong’s first ever swimming medal: silver in the 200m freestyle and the women’s 100m freestyle; both Asian records. When the athletes returned, a modest contingent of 46, they were taken around town in an open top bus.

The Olympics – and sport in general – have become a new focal point for Hong Kong’s identity, a source of politicization and a place for old arguments. That weekend, Hong Kong marathon runners were ordered to cover up “political” slogans and tattoos before they were allowed to compete. It was the first major group sporting event since the National Security Act was introduced. Now the focus is on the Beijing Winter Games in February. The athletes are still qualifying for the winter events, but two alpine skiers from Hong Kong have already qualified, so the region is sending a team to Beijing.

Hong Kong's Siobhan Haughey smiles after the women's 200m freestyle final in TokyoHong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey smiles after the women’s 200m freestyle final in Tokyo Photo: Matthias Schräder / AP

We are “Hong Kong”

Hong Kong competes separately from China in the Olympics since 1954 when it was a British colony. As the world focuses more on the geopolitical definitions of Hong Kong and Taiwan, amid China’s increasing control over the former and claims to sovereignty over the latter, the Olympics have emerged as one of the few global events where all three are kept separate and direct compete against each other.

Cheung’s gold medal at the Tokyo Games was Hong Kong’s first since it was handed over in 1997. In Hong Kong, when Cheung’s medal ceremony was broadcast on the big screen at the APM mall, a 40-year-old man allegedly started to boo on the Chinese national anthem and waved an old British colonial flag. He went home and was arrested a few days later under a law introduced last year that criminalizes insulting the Chinese flag or national anthem. Gordon Mathews, a professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told the South China Morning Post that he felt that some people in the crowd were using the Olympics to test what they could do under the national security law, “That wouldn’t make her do it”. Jail”.

Other controversies surfaced during the Tokyo Games. Badminton player Angus Ng Ka-long, a great hope for a medal, sparked a political firestorm just because he wore a plain black shirt. Ng, ranked number 9 in the world, was “convicted” by Nicholas Muk Ka-chun, a history teacher who is a member of the pro-Beijing DAB party, after playing his first match in a black shirt and shorts without the Hong. had denied the Kong flag. Black is a color that is still strongly associated with pro-democracy protesters, and Muk wrote on Facebook, “If [you] Hong Kong do not want to represent China, please withdraw from the competition ”.

Hong Kong's Angus Ng Ka Long in the men's badminton group game in TokyoHong Kong’s Angus Ng Ka Long in the men’s badminton group game in Tokyo Photo: Alexander Nemenov / AFP / Getty Images

Ng, a normally reserved and media-shy athlete, immediately made it clear that this was not a political statement. He recently left his sponsor, he said, so used his own shirt and only chose it because it was comfortable. For the second game, he and the Hong Kong Badminton Association were looking for a replacement and even asked for help from the Home Office. The next game he played in green and white, with the symbol of Hong Kong, the five-sided Bauhinia flower, across his chest. He was knocked down by number 59 in the world, Kevin Cordon. In his post-game interview, he said he felt “tense and under pressure”.

The fact that Ng, a devotedly apolitical athlete, got into the middle of this debate is the latest example of the increasing politicization and partisanship of sport on an island that also divides its businesses into yellow (pro-demonstrators) and blue (pro-demonstrators). Police). Even after Ng said the shirt was not political, another politician, Executive Councilor Ronny Tong, commented that he should still avoid wearing black. “[We] we’ve had bad experiences so we’re scared, ”he said. “It’s better not to wear black, or people can have a heart attack while watching TV.”

Fears that athletes could be silenced

As the Hong Kong arrests continue under national security law and China escalates its military exercises near Taiwan, the same political issues raised this year will intensify in the lead up to the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

Human Rights Watch has warned that China could remove Olympic visas for “athletes whose opinions they do not like”. The European Elite Athletes Association has also urged the IOC to ensure that athletes “have the right to voice their concerns”. In July, the IOC assured the media that Hong Kong and Taiwan could face each other regardless of political tension in Beijing.

The flag bearers Hsing-Chun Kuo and Yen-Hsun Lu from Team Chinese Taipei during the opening ceremony of the Games in TokyoThe flag bearers Hsing-Chun Kuo and Yen-Hsun Lu from Team Chinese Taipei during the opening ceremony of the Games in Tokyo Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images

Hong Kong’s Prime Minister Carrie Lam, like many politicians, has used the region’s recent Olympic success to claim it is united and not divided. She said that Haughey “made the city famous” and that Cheung “made us all proud”.

Lam has announced more money for the sport and made it clear that she does not see sporting success in making Hong Kong’s identity more independent or detached from China. Lam has come out firmly against calls to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics. “Thomas Bach, the chairman of the IOC, kept saying: ‘Sport is sport’,” she said. “You shouldn’t try to politicize the sport.”

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