Hong Kong, China and the soccer world’s dilemma

Mr Sutcliffe felt not everyone in attendance was a football fan.

“Without a doubt, the international matches provided a platform for Hong Kong residents to air their grievances,” Sutcliffe said.

“The booing during the national anthem was a huge for them. Attendance increased and a lot of people who would never go to a football game under normal circumstances went to the game.”

Mr Sutcliffe cannot recall any complaints from Beijing.

“We were certainly under pressure from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.” [Special Administrative Region] “I want the government to do everything in its power to stop that,” he says.

“We ran a publicity campaign. We introduced stricter security at matches, including searches and the confiscation of banners. We were unable to completely stop it, and as a result we were fined several times by FIFA. I got it.”

In 2020, Hong Kong’s legislature also took action, passing a bill that would make disrespecting the national anthem a crime, punishable by up to three years in prison.

Still, at the first home game open to the public since the new law was introduced in September 2022, the national anthem was once again booed by some in the crowd before kickoff against Myanmar.

Three months later, Hong Kong’s 83 sports organizations were told they had to add “China” to their names or risk losing funding. About three-quarters had never done so before.

Football fans flocked to buy the last batch of shirts that still had the old Hong Kong logo before the word “China” was added to the dragon emblem.

Sutcliffe sought to strike the right balance to accommodate China’s demands while maintaining a degree of distance and separate identity.

“It was kind of an unspoken rule to not get too close in case FIFA decided to disqualify individual members,” he says.

“There was no sharing of resources or knowledge or anything like that.

“In fact, we had a much closer relationship with Japan, who were much more altruistic and saw their role as coaching their smaller affiliates and improving football across Asia. I was thinking.”

The Chinese Super League (CSL) boom briefly threatened to recalibrate these relationships.

In the early 2010s, China’s top clubs started spending huge amounts of money on world-famous players such as Nicolas Anelka, Didier Drogba, Hulk and Carlos Tevez, as well as Marcello Lippi, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Fabio… Coaches such as Capello were also appointed.

The number of participants has increased to the highest in Asia, and standards have improved. Guangzhou Evergrande, just an hour away from Hong Kong by high-speed train, became China’s first Asian Champions League winner in 2013 and won it again in 2015.

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