HONG KONG – Thousands of Hong Kong soccer fans booed loudly and turned their backs when the Chinese national anthem was played before a World Cup qualifier match against Iran on Tuesday, taking the city’s months of protests into the sports realm.
The crowd broke out into “Glory to Hong Kong,” a song reflecting their campaign for more democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
After the match started, fans chanted “Fight for freedom” and “Revolution of our Times.” One person carried a blue poster that read, “Hong Kong is not China.”
Hong Kong has been roiled by protests since June over an extradition bill that would have sent some residents to mainland China for trial. The government promised last week to withdraw the bill but that failed to placate the protesters, whose demands now include democratic reforms and police accountability.
Security at the Hong Kong Stadium was tight, with fans frisked to ensure they did not bring in political materials and other prohibited items. Iran, Asia’s top team, had sought to move the match, citing safety concerns over the unrest, but the request was rejected by FIFA, soccer’s governing body.
Stadium announcers said 14,000 spectators attended the game.
Iran beat Hong Kong 2-0.
“Hong Kong people are united. We will speak up for freedom and democracy,” one of the spectators, Leo Fan, said as members of the crowd continued to chant slogans and sing protest songs as they left.
In July, Hong Kong fans chanted slogans and waved banners when English Premier League champions Manchester City played local team Kitchee at the stadium.