Hong Kong, China – When bicycle owner Sarah Lee beat her opponent by a photograph end of 0.019 seconds within the dash semifinal within the Tokyo 2020 Games, the group glued to the Jumbotron display screen contained in the Olympian City mall in Hong Kong burst into deafening cheers, some pumping their fists into the air.
Lee, who rose from humble beginnings in public housing to the rostrum within the 2012 London Olympics as a bronze medallist, has lengthy been lionised as an area sport legend – and an exemplar of the territory’s trademark grit that has powered its transformation from a sleepy fishing village right into a dynamic worldwide metropolis.
In the wake of the 2019 protests and with China’s imposition of the National Security Law, Hong Kong has seen its political freedoms diminish and pro-democracy politicians and supporters arrested or go into exile. The United States and others have mentioned the territory not enjoys the “high degree of autonomy” promised within the “one country, two systems” framework beneath which the previous British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Yet for the 2 weeks over the Olympics, the “one country, two teams” establishment not solely afforded validation to these Hong Kong residents who see themselves as a individuals aside but additionally bridged, if fleetingly, the political divide that has riven the territory.
The staff returned home with an historic haul of 1 gold, two silvers and three bronzes, the territory’s best-ever efficiency.
“You can see there was a brief moment of euphoria among the fans, but whether sport is a means for solidarity, in the long run, remains to be seen,” Marcus Chu, a political scientist at Lingnan University in Hong Kong who researches the politics of sport, instructed Al Jazeera. “After all, the city doesn’t have a deep tradition of sports culture.”
Just how Team Hong Kong got here into its personal has been formed by town’s historical past as a precursor to and a beneficiary of China’s rise as a sports activities powerhouse.
In the 1936 Berlin Games, colonial Hong Kong fielded eight footballers and a swimmer as a part of the fledgling China republic’s Olympic delegation.
Even although in that period sport was almost completely a pastime for the elite, coaching to be stronger and sooner appealed to patriotic Hong Kong Chinese aspiring to avoid wasting China. Grassroots sport golf equipment, such because the South China Athletic Association, sprang as much as handle the rising demand for organised apply.
That was why even after Hong Kong made its debut within the 1952 Helsinki Games – the primary to permit colonies to compete – a few of the record-setting athletes selected to signify China – to carry glory to the motherland.
In a metropolis with none skilled leagues, the return to Chinese sovereignty has proved constructive for sport, bringing in an inflow of immigrant profession athletes from the mainland. Before that, Hong Kong’s solely win in 40 years was a gold medal in wind crusing within the 1996 Atlanta Games.
By 2004 in Athens, two mainland-trained ping-pong gamers clinched silver for Hong Kong within the doubles desk tennis. One of them, Li Ching, coached the ladies’s staff to bronze in Tokyo.
“We’ve gone from having mainland players represent the team to now seeing Hong Kong-born and -bred achieve results – this is something that does me proud,” mentioned Tony Yu, chairman of the Hong Kong Table Tennis Association.
Hong Kong’s athletes usually prepare within the mainland, particularly those that play the sports activities that are China’s sturdy fits. Some of this yr’s Hong Kong medallists signed up for teaching within the US.
Arrest over anthem
While it has been uncommon for Hong Kong to face-off in opposition to China, each time that occurs the match-up is an event for these chafing at China’s perceived political encroachment to mount a type of resistance.
Thundering chants of “We’re Hong Kong” are expressions of a kindred, reasonably than ethnic, id. Although Team Hong Kong flies its personal flag, China’s nationwide anthem performs for town.
Over the previous few years, so many sports activities followers took to booing the anthem to provide voice to their dissent that laws was enacted final yr to criminalise any disrespect of the Chinese anthem.
Still, that didn’t cease some followers from jeering when the anthem performed in the course of the ceremony the place Hong Kong fencer Edgar Cheung was bestowed the gold medal. On July 30, a person was arrested on suspicion of insulting the Chinese anthem and inspiring others to affix him.
Cheung’s gold medal – Hong Kong’s first for the reason that handover – and the staff’s unprecedented haul, might imply the federal government’s efforts to spice up the territory’s athletic prowess are lastly are reaping outcomes. Tung Chee-hwa, the primary post-handover chief govt, made it a precedence to spend money on elite sports activities as a method to reinforce the territory’s mushy energy and forge “a distinct Hong Kong identity”.
At a time when that id appears beneath siege and Hong Kong’s core values and cherished establishments beneath unprecedented strain from Beijing, the Tokyo video games have given individuals trigger to return collectively.
That was why final Saturday at Olympian City – so named to mark Hong Kong’s first gold medal – discovered Vincent Law and Rose Chan, of their 40s, stopping by to look at and cheer Lee on within the biking semifinal.
“As a Hong Konger, I’m proud of the athletes’ accomplishment,” mentioned Chan.
The couple additionally mentioned they may not think about an Olympics with out Team Hong Kong – for causes pragmatic and nostalgic.
“If Hong Kong’s team becomes part of China’s,” mentioned Law, “our athletes gained’t stand an opportunity to qualify.
“I’d be very sad,” mentioned Chan.