With both Hong Kong and China occupying Group C of the qualifying rounds for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the two teams are set to face off next week on November 17th.
It would appear, however, that the Hong Kong government is keen on preventing the match from becoming the center of anti-Beijing activities.
Reportedly 1,200 police officers — the same amount that was deployed during last year’s Umbrella Protests — will be dispatched to the Mong Kok district as a precaution, although only 20 will actually be stationed inside the stadium.
A source quoted in the South China Morning Post said, “The deployment is necessary. It’s a precautionary measure.”
“We don’t rule out the possibility that some people will make use of the result of the match to instigate others to cause trouble. We have to be ready for any eventuality.”
Trouble with Hong Kong-China football matches in the past have likely influenced this decision. FIFA fined the Hong Kong Football Association 38,600 HKD for misbehavior in previous games after fans booed the Chinese national anthem.
A heightened police presence, however, is only the tip of the iceberg. The Hong Kong government also denied HKFA’s request to host the game in the larger 40,000 seater Hong Kong Stadium, forcing them to use the smaller 6,400 seater arena in Mong Kok instead. As a result, only about 3,000 tickets have been sold so far.
Furthermore, customers have been required to show proof of Hong Kong citizenship as a prerequisite to purchase tickets, and the HKFA has declared that all supporters will be subject to thorough searches before entering the stadium and that all banners will be subject to screening in order to prevent political materials from entering the arena.
The last match between Hong Kong and China was in Shenzhen, and ended in an epic draw and some name-calling.
Yesterday, China improved its slim chances of a World Cup berth by absolutely pummeling Bhutan 15-0 in Changsha.
By Stanley Yu
Images via SCMP