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Hong Kong fans renew anthem protest despite AFC punishment warning

Hong Kong vs. China
Hong Kong fans again jeered the anthem against Lebanon.

Hong Kong fans again defied the threat of punishment from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) on Tuesday when they jeered the Chinese national anthem ahead of the Asian Cup qualifying defeat to Lebanon.

Last month, the AFC warned that the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) risked punishment if fans continued to boo "The March of the Volunteers" after it was jeered ahead of the meeting with Malaysia.

Before the match against Lebanon, some fans turned their back on flag as the anthem was played.

The game was Hong Kong's last at home in the Asian Cup finals qualifying campaign and the last before local authorities draft legislation outlawing shows of dissent against the state.

Hong Kong has been under the rule of mainland China since 1997 when the city's governance was handed back by the British under the Anglo-Sino agreement, which sought to protect its autonomy.

Some sections of Hong Kong society feel those freedoms are being undermined by the Beijing government and have taken to the streets to protest.

The HKFA acknowledged before the game that there was not much it could do to prevent fans protesting.

Vice-chairman Pui Kwan-kay told the South China Morning Post: "We hope this could be the end of it as the situation should be under better control when the draft law becomes part of the local legislation.

"We know we can do little to stop it at this stage, but we hope the fans refrain from violating the proposed law once again.

"The regional soccer governing body has already warned the HKFA that any further breach of the rules on fans' behaviour could be met with more severe punishment.

"If that really happens, it will be the Hong Kong team to suffer."

Hong Kong still have a chance of qualifying for the Asian Cup finals, needing to defeat North Korea in Pyongyang next year to advance to the finals for the first time since 1968.

Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch

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