Update: Asia Rugby apologizes after HKSAR govt demands full, in-depth probe into wrong song played in South Korean rugby game
Published: Nov 14, 2022 11:50 AM
Hong Kong

Photo: Xinhua

Asia Rugby and Korea Rugby Union apologized to the Hong Kong Rugby Union (HKRU), the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government and the Chinese central government after the organizer of the Rugby Sevens tournament in South Korea was strongly condemned for playing a wrong song associated with the social turmoil in Hong Kong in 2019. 

The HKSAR government strongly deplored and opposed the playing of a song closely associated with violent protests and the illegal "Hong Kong independence" movement in 2019 instead of China's National Anthem at the men's final between Hong Kong and South Korea of the second leg of the Asian Rugby Seven Series on Sunday, the HKSAR government said on Monday. 

John Lee, Chief Executive of the HKSAR government, told reporters on Monday that the chief secretary for administration of the HKSAR government summoned the South Korean consul general in Hong Kong to thoroughly investigate the incident, and the police will also investigate the matter to see whether there's alleged conspiracy of violating National Anthem Ordinance or other laws.

Some lawmakers and observers in Hong Kong also called the error "completely unacceptable."

The song was played as the Hong Kong sevens team prepared to play South Korea in Sunday's final of the second leg of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series in Incheon, according to media reports. Organizers made a public apology and played the National Anthem of China at the presentation ceremony after the game.

The National Anthem is a symbol of our country. The organizer of the tournament has a duty to ensure that the National Anthem receives the respect it warrants, HKSAR government spokesman said. 

We already wrote to the HKRU on Sunday evening, demanding they deal with this matter seriously, launch a full and in-depth investigation, submit a detailed report, and convey our strong objection to Asia Rugby, which is the organizer of the Series, the government spokesperson said. 

The Sports Federation & Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China (SF&OC) said on Monday that it is highly concerned about the incident and conducted immediate enquiries to the HKRU on Sunday in order to understand the situation.

It was recognized that a formal written complaint has been made by the HKRU to both Asia Rugby and World Rugby to express strong disapproval and demand follow-up actions be taken seriously, the association said. 

Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, a lawmaker who represents the Sports, Performing Arts, Culture and Publication Functional Constituency in the Legislative Council, told the Global Times on Monday that he was completely shocked by the incident, and he learned what happened from the HKRU. The union had provided the correct song - China's National Anthem - to Asia Rugby but the staff member did not use it and used music downloaded from the internet instead. 

"Although Asia Rugby has apologized to the HKRU, I don't think it's enough and the incident proved that Asia Rugby lacked communication with the local organizing committee," he said. "The error in the procedure led to an irreversible mistake. I urge the HKRU to ask Asia Rugby to review the workflow to ensure that no similar incidents occur in the future," Fok said. 

The lawmaker also believed that playing the national anthem and raising the national flag is a serious and sacred matter, related to which there should be no mistake on any occasion. "I strongly condemned the wrongdoing of the organizer, and will send a letter to the South Korean consulate in Hong Kong to urge the South Korean government to solemnly review its mistakes and make an apology to the people of China."

Based on the preliminary information provided by the Hong Kong Rugby Union to the Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau, Asia Rugby has already apologized to the HKRU for the incident, the HKSAR government said. 

Asia Rugby also confirmed that the recording of the National Anthem submitted by the coach of the Hong Kong Team was the correct one, and explained that the mistake was caused by the human error of a junior staffer of the local organizer, it noted. 

Sports should be isolated from politics, and "we should say no to violence and illegality," Chu Kar-kin, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and veteran current affairs commentator based in Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Regrettably, the organization of this international event committed a fault, hurting the feelings of the Chinese people. The management of the event is accountable and owes us a sincere apology, Chu said. 

"The National Anthem symbolizes the dignity of the nation. International games should not be a platform or a tool to display or spread hatred and violence," he said. 

The misconduct has infringed on sportsmanship and should be investigated, and those at fault should be sanctioned, Chu added. 

The organizer made a public announcement conveying its apology for the mistake immediately after the game and played the correct National Anthem of China during the prize presentation ceremony when the Hong Kong Team won the final.

The SF&OC said it is surprised by the mistake made by the organizer of the Asia Rugby Seven Series. The initial explanation provided by the organizer is unacceptable. The association has instructed the HKRU to conduct an in-depth investigation and follow up to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

The HKRU also expressed its extreme dissatisfaction at this occurrence and received a full explanation of the circumstances that led to this. "While we accept this was a case of human error, it was nevertheless not acceptable. The HKRU has registered our deepest concern and regret over this incident," the union said.