Hong Kong’s football team beat China 2:1 Tuesday, the first time the team has won against its giant mainland counterpart since 1995 when the city was still under British rule.
Hong Kong, which continues to compete under its own flag in international sports competitions, scored the symbolic victory in a friendly match in Abu Dhabi that was played behind closed doors, reportedly to limit publicity.
Hong Kong’s win comes as Xi’s “football dream” falters
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decade-long push for the nation to become a global soccer superpower by 2050 is showing signs of faltering, despite vast ambitions and massive amounts of investment. Clubs deployed lucrative deals to persuade foreign football stars to leave Europe for China, while the government announced plans to set up 50,000 soccer schools for children by 2025. However, those efforts haven’t resulted in much progress. Fan attendance dropped due to the pandemic, the Chinese Super League has been plagued by corruption and debt, and China’s hopes of hosting the World Cup in 2030 have faded, according to Sixth Tone. “The hopes were really high and that’s why the disappointment is so big,” a Shanghai University professor told The New York Times.
Hong Kong’s sporting scene is under pressure to assimilate with China
Hong Kong fans and sporting associations have come under pressure to assimilate with China, as Beijing presses the semi-autonomous region to solidify its connection to the mainland. Last year, Hong Kong’s Olympic Committee told The Washington Post that sports associations had to change their names to include “China” in their titles — or risk losing government funding.
Fans have been fined for singing the protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong” at matches, while international rugby and hockey organizers have apologized for playing the song instead of the city’s official national anthem, China’s “March of the Volunteers,” Hong Kong Free Press reported.
China wants to put Taiwan’s sporting victories under its banner
Beijing has also sought to claim credit for Taiwan’s sporting victories. Under a decades-old agreement, Taiwanese athletes compete under the name Chinese Taipei, despite the self-governing island firmly rejecting the claim that it is part of Chinese territory.
After the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, China presented an alternate version of the medal table that declared itself and not the U.S. as the overall winner, after including the medal wins of Taiwan and Hong Kong. Some fans say it doesn’t especially matter – at the Asian Games held in Hangzhou in October, one Taiwanese baseball manager said he had traveled to the mainland simply for the baseball. “Sports is sports, politics is politics,” he told Voice of America. “We are here for the sports.”