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Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Protests Reach the World of Sports

Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Studio Incendo courtesy of Flickr.

After decades of demands for democratic reform, the recent Hong Kong protests have created citywide chaos in an attempt to make the cause a known worldwide issue. Their cause has the potential to impact the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the International Federation of Association (FIFA) in the near future.

Tensions Rise with the National Basketball Association

LeBron James wearing yellow number 23 Cavalier jersey with maroon shooting sleeve
Photo labeled for reuse, media Commons. Photo credit: Keith Allison

The NBA has been at the forefront of conversations regarding sports and the Hong Kong protests. It began with an image tweeted from the Houston Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey that read:

“Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”

Sidney Leng quotes Daryl Morey’s tweet in a South China Morning Post article.

Morey deleted the tweet soon after but no doubt, it was already being distributed throughout Chinese media outlets. Chinese fans began criticizing and expressing their opinions regarding the tweet while demonstrators in Hong Kong began chanting support for the tweet. The Houston Rockets have a rich history with Chinese basketball fans after recent NBA Hall of Famer, Yao Ming, played eight seasons with the Rockets.

In an article written by the Associated Press published on USA Today, in response to Morey’s tweet, NBA star, LeBron James, commented that free speech can have negative consequences. This struck a nerve with basketball fans in Hong Kong, leading to the stamping and burning of James’ jerseys.

George Walden is an U.S. born anchor, reporter and sports media freelancer based in Munich, Germany. Walden has covered almost every type of sporting event and is known for his knowledge, professionalism and passion. In an email, he commented on the NBA’s response to Morey’s tweet by saying:

“In life, you find out about character and morals very quickly and unfortunately the NBA has sold its soul for the almighty dollar, or in this case the Yen.”

Sports media professional George Walden.

The protests in Hong Kong have proven to be affecting the NBA and other sports around the world. Although, only time will tell how the sports industry will continue to respond.

FIFA Regulates Hong Kong Football Association

During a 2022 World Cup qualification game, Hong Kong soccer fans protested the Chinese national anthem in hopes of increasing awareness of their cause. In response, FIFA fined the Hong Kong Football Association for breaching article 16 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.

Reflective FIFA sign at the headquarters in Zurich
Photo labeled for reuse, via Flickr. Photo credit: Ben Sutherland

“The use of gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit a message that is not appropriate for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious or offensive nature; acts of damage; causing a disturbance during national anthems.”

Article 16 in the 2019 FIFA Disciplinary Code.
Group of people from Hong Kong marching with signs
Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Prosperity Horizons formerly taken by Exploringlife courtesy of WIkimedia Commons.

Hong Kong had already been disciplined three times for booing the Chinese national anthem in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. According to FIFA’s Disciplinary Overview, Hong Kong was fined about $15,000 total for their violations in 2018. In our email exchange, Walden commented on the disciplinary actions enforced by FIFA, saying, “FIFA is too crooked and afraid to piss off the Chinese Government just like the NBA is. 15,000 is peanuts, but China will make FIFA feel as if it is 15 billion and give them a guilt complex from hell knowing that everyone wants in on their market value and shares.”

The protests in Hong Kong are representative of the fight against China’s totalitarian regime and government. The economic impact of these protests have the potential to enormously change the sports industry. So far the sports industry has yet to determine a clear path in responding to the issues involving China and Hong Kong.

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