The Hong Kong government on Monday demanded “a full and in-depth investigation” after a song associated with the pro-democracy protests of 2019 was played instead of the Chinese national anthem before a match by the city’s rugby sevens team at a tournament in Incheon, South Korea.
On Sunday, as Hong Kong players stood shoulder-to-shoulder before a match against South Korea, the protest song “Glory to Hong Kong” blared through stadium speakers. Organizers were supposed to have played the anthem of the home countries of both teams. As a semiautonomous Chinese territory, Hong Kong shares China’s national anthem, “March of the Volunteers.”
Asia Rugby and the Korea Rugby Union extended joint apologies to the governments of Hong Kong and China. In a statement, Asia Rugby said that the mix-up resulted from a “simple human error,” when a junior member of the local organizing committee in South Korea played a song downloaded online rather than the anthem. The organizers said they removed the original footage of the match and replaced audio of the protest song with the Chinese anthem.
The Hong Kong Rugby Union on Monday said that it had raised the issue of the incorrect music, and that the Chinese anthem was played after Hong Kong won the match. “Whilst we accept this was a case of human error, it was nevertheless not acceptable,” the union said in a statement.
“Glory to Hong Kong” became the unofficial anthem of the pro-democracy movement that paralyzed the city in 2019.
Composed by a local musician who has remained anonymous, the song became widely popular among pro-democracy protesters after it was first posted in August 2019 in an online forum. Hundreds of people gathered in shopping malls that autumn to belt out the lyrics. Brass bands and chamber orchestras played it live during protests and gatherings.
But after a national security law was passed in 2020, “Glory to Hong Kong” mostly disappeared from public events. That year, education officials banned the song from schools and tasked school officials with stopping students from playing or singing it. The song includes the line “Break now the dawn, liberate our Hong Kong in common breath: Revolution of our times!” which references a protest slogan that the government said could be seditious.
In 2020, Hong Kong had also passed a law that made disrespect for the Chinese anthem and flag a criminal offense. Before that, spectators had occasionally booed, turned their backs or made vulgar gestures when the Chinese anthem was played at sports events in the city.
Last week, a Hong Kong woman was sentenced to three months in prison for insulting the official anthem. She had waved a British colonial flag last summer when hundreds of fans gathered in a Hong Kong shopping mall to watch the Tokyo Summer Olympics.