At the Asia Rugby Sevens tournament match in Incheon, South Korea, on Sunday the instrumental version of “Glory to Hong Kong” rang out through the stadium’s speakers as the team lined up for the men’s finals match.
The song, whose lyrics refer to “tears on our land” and call for “democracy and liberty”, has been associated with the former British colony’s large-scale pro-democracy protests, particularly during the 2019 agitations.
The Hong Kong government issued a strongly worded rebuke of the incident, saying it “strongly deplores” the use of a song that is associated with “violent protests” and the anti-Beijing movement in the city.
“We have already written to the Hong Kong Rugby Union last evening demanding them to deal with this matter seriously, launch a full and in-depth investigation and submit a detailed report, and convey our strong objection to Asia Rugby, who is the organiser of the Series,” the Hong Kong government said in a statement.
Video clips of the incident, which shows the song being played as the Hong Kong team stand in line, has been shared widely on social media, overshadowing the team’s 19-12 victory over South Korea.
The Seoul-based Korea Rugby Union apologised for the mix-up on Monday and denied it was politically motivated, calling it a case of “human error”.
Officials said they have apologised to the Asia Rugby Union as well as to the Hong Kong and Chinese sides. They said staff of the mainland Chinese team also competing at the tournament notified them of the error.
Following the game, the organisers announced an apology both in Korean and English to the attendees and played the Chinese national anthem when the team won the match.
According to the officials, a person handing the playing of the national anthems accidentally chose the protesters’ song saved in a computer file folder named “HongKong“. It was saved without the knowledge that it is linked to protests, the official said.
Hong Kong has a law agaisnt disrespecting the Chinese national anthem, known as the National Anthem Ordinance or more commonly as the anthem law. It came into effect in June 2020 after several sports fan started booing the national anthem at international events in Hong Kong.
The song Glory to Hong Kong has not been banned, but this year a man who play it outside the British consulate on his harmonica was detained.
Earlier this month, a man was sentenced to three months in jail for waving a colonial-era flag inside a shopping mall, the first such conviction under the law.
China has been accused of tightening control over the city, which is a special administrative region of the country and has been ruled since the handover from Britain under the “one country, two systems” principle.
It passed a sweeping National Security Law in 2020 to crack down on Hong Kong‘s pro-democracy movement. The controversial law criminalises acts of succession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.