By Emily Hung – South China Morning Post
A war of words between Hong Kong’s sports federation and the city’s ice hockey association deepened on Friday over a blunder last month when a protest song was once again played at an international tournament instead of China’s national anthem.
After the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China on Wednesday issued an ultimatum to the Ice Hockey Association’s management to come clean over its handling by Monday, the team’s leader hit back on Friday that it had already promised to respond by the deadline and was concerned by the body’s accusations of non-cooperation.
The blunder behind the fiery exchange occurred on February 28, when a song related to the 2019 ant-government protests played instead of “March of the Volunteers” after Hong Kong beat Iran at the 2023 Ice Hockey World Championship’s third division in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The ceremony was halted after Hong Kong athletes made a “T” shape with their hands, and the correct anthem was later played.
But the city’s sports federation on Friday said it was unclear whether the ice hockey team had provided organizers with a hard copy of the anthem, which could have prevented the blunder.
A federation insider said passing a hard copy to organizers should have been done face-to-face, based on guidelines issued last November by the city’s top sports body and international customs concerning playing national anthems at overseas sports events.
According to the source, association president Mike Kan Yeung-kit had said a copy of the anthem was given to the organisers but the information was not included in the group’s preliminary report on the incident.
The insider also accused Kan of being evasive when the federation sought to clarify the discrepancy.
The Post has contacted the association for comment.
The guidelines issued by the city’s sports federation require a team leader assigned by their respective association to give organisers a USB drive containing the correct music.
Upon receiving the materials, organisers should provide confirmation by email, text message or a written note with an official signature.
Discussing last month’s blunder, a second federation insider said: “If the team leader did make an effort to [prevent the error] and the problem lies with the organiser, we would surely understand and accept it.”
Speaking in an independent capacity on Friday evening, ice hockey team leader Annie Kwan Yuen-yee said she was doing her best to work with the federation and police despite flying to South Africa for another tournament last Friday, just two days after returning from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The team leader said she had already provided a statement to police last Wednesday after the tournament wrapped up, before submitting a preliminary report two days later, and replying to text messages from the federation on Friday to acknowledge Monday’s deadline.
“This has affected our athletes and we are regretful that we only got the first and second runner-up positions in the tournament this time.”
The team earlier accused the sports federation of providing a problematic hyperlink for downloading the country’s anthem, which was passed to the organizers.
Team leader Kwan had said the organizers failed to download it and instead searched for a copy online without contacting the association, resulting in the error.
After the Monday deadline, the federation said, it hoped to meet the management of the ice hockey association in person on Thursday to determine the facts and suggest fixes for any loopholes.
But the federation on Friday stopped short of saying how it might follow up with the team if it did not cooperate, reiterating that the sports body recognised the efforts of the athletes and did not wish to trade blame with the ice hockey association.
The federation was also speaking with the event organizers to learn more about how the anthem was passed to them, it added.