Asia Minute: China’s Politics of Soccer

Jun 15, 2015

Credit See-ming Lee / Flickr

If you’re a soccer fan, you may be waiting for tomorrow’s World Cup game between the US women’s team and Nigeria. But you may have missed a different soccer story that’s taking place in Asia. It’s partially about sports, but it also has a lot to do with politics. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

Late last week, Hong Kong won its first World Cup qualifying match in nearly eight years…shutting out Bhutan 7 to nothing or, as soccer fans would put it,  “seven-nil.”  But the bigger story took place before the match got underway when a capacity crowd of more than 63,000 fans at Hong Kong’s Mong Kok Stadium heard the Chinese national anthem… and booed.  This was not a ripple of discontent, this was loud, long and lusty drowning out the strains of “The March of the Volunteers.”

The game was broadcast by China’s CCTV and the South China Morning Post reports an outraged reaction on line from mainland viewers.  In recent years, soccer has come under closer official watch in China.  President Xi Jinping is a big fan and has made it clear he wants the national team to improve. Soccer has been added to the national school curriculum and thousands of soccer schools are continuing to open around the country.  China’s men’s team in particular could use the help.  It’s only qualified for the World Cup once, in 2002 and the team did not score a goal in its three games.  In the shorter term, it should be an interesting fall complete with national anthems.  China and Hong Kong play each other twice in September in Shenzhen and in November in Hong Kong.