What should have happened in South Korea
As a former Tournament Manager for Asia Rugby whose responsibilities included running many sevens tournaments in South Korea, I would like to clarify what should have happened last weekend.
When I ran Asia’s rugby competitions across more than 20 countries and regions, it as a basic operational requirement to ensure that anthems and other national symbols were in place and properly displayed. Over 100s of games and tournaments I directly managed, I always tested the anthems with the host union before play started.
As late as 2015, teams were requested to submit anthems prior to the Series. As Asia Rugby has now confirmed, this was also the case with the Hong Kong team, which confirmed the anthem for use across the Series.
From that point onward it was the responsibility of Asia Rugby to ensure they were played correctly by the Host union.
Asia Rugby has admitted it failed in this most basic and vital task, which is not just an indictment of its operational acumen, but displays a surprising lack of political and cultural sensitivity given the long-standing issues in Asian sport around the display of the Chinese Taipei Olympic flag.
It is the responsibility of the Host union to ensure the smooth operation of the event including that the correct anthem is played - as has been the case at every Asia Rugby game or tournament held in Hong Kong as far back as I can remember.
In fact, when hosting Korea I always ensured the display of the Korean flag at field level so the members of the national forces in the team could salute it as is their service requirement.
Given this, it was personally disappointing to see this egregious error and its lasting impact on one of Asia Rugby’s founding members, the Hong Kong Rugby Union.
That’s what should have happened on the field... This is what should have happened afterwards.
An immediate and clear recognition by Asia Rugby and Korea Rugby Union of the severity of the situation and a clear and unequivocal clarification that no Hong Kong team member, management staff, fan or Hong Kong national was involved in identifying, providing, downloading or playing the offensive piece of music that was aired.
Instead, this confirmation took more than 48 hours. I believe the response from the governing body and Korea remains insufficient and at times has been obfuscated by erroneous comments delivered by anonymous sources. I was even more disappointed to see local media provide an echo chamber for these rationalizations.
Given the facts of the matter are now clear, albeit belatedly, it seems unfair to hold the HKRU responsible for the organizational failures of others. As an event organizer, I believe the team is amongst the most egregiously damaged parties, given their preparations were drastically impacted ahead of an important final, and the resulting furore they have faced at home – ill reward for a successful performance.
What shouldn’t have happened after the game…
The Hong Kong Rugby team should not be made to be a political football. Certain local commentators seem happy to punish the players for not knowing the offensive music that was played ahead of the final. Sorry, these athletes practice not protest.
Our rugby athletes and the Hong Kong Rugby UNION represent for many the best promise of our city - a home for people of different cultures and races united behind a common goal and purpose, to bring authentic glory to Hong Kong.
Like all Hong Kong athletes, our rugby athletes (the majority of whom are born and raised here) make considerable sacrifices financially, and in irreplaceable time spent away from loved ones, for their sport and their city. Unlike other sports, our rugby athletes actually bleed for Hong Kong.
One of the enduring traditions of rugby is respect for our opponents. Rugby players pride themselves on the ability to engage in tough but fair contests, and then embrace our opponent once the whistle blows. It seems that many in our community might benefit from understanding how we too can come together, recognize our commonality, and leave resentments on the field where they belong.
There have been calls for the Hong Kong Rugby Union to self-reflect. Having worked with the Union and many other sports bodies here I can think of no other association that will commit themselves as intently, openly and honestly to self-improvement, and enhancing their processes and procedures.
But perhaps we might also take a moment to reflect on the value of our Hong Kong rugby teams: reigning Asian Games gold medallists and Asian champions, and the public face of an organization that has generated billions for Hong Kong; created incalculable international goodwill for the city; invested over one hundred million dollars into developing sports grounds in parks and schools, and run thousands of community programmes for disadvantaged and migrant youth, the mentally and physically challenged, and other concern groups in the city.
That is a record that would stand against any sporting or social organization in Hong Kong. All of that and they beat South Korea on the regular… On balance, perhaps they are worth championing after all?