Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung said on Saturday that it's unacceptable and unbelievable that the name of a song associated with the violent protests of 2019 was substituted for that of the national anthem during television broadcasts of an international rugby match earlier this month.
The game in question was a Rugby World Cup qualifier between Hong Kong and Portugal in Dubai on November 6 and the incorrect name was displayed as March of the Volunteers played. The incident happend a week before the same incorrect song was played in place of the anthem at a rugby sevens competition in South Korea.
Yeung said officials were in touch with the Hong Kong Rugby Union to try to find out how the Dubai mix-up happened, adding that the government would handle the matter seriously.
"It's absolutely unacceptable because our national anthem should be respected. I cannot believe that, within such a short time, mistakes in relation to our national anthem were made repeatedly at rugby games," he said.
In a statement, the Hong Kong Rugby Union said no member of the team or management was aware of the mistake until after the match, and it was not informed that the anthem's name would be displayed on television.
It said World Rugby had apologised for the mix-up and explained that the error was made by a "graphics operator". It had corrected the mistake on videos that had been released and approached other internet platforms to ensure the image was removed.
The union said it had requested a detailed timeline and explanation as well as a formal apology from World Rugby to the government and people of Hong Kong.
"Playing or labelling the national anthem of China incorrectly is both disrespectful and hurtful to the people of Hong Kong and the nation, and the HKRU has again expressed its extreme dissatisfaction with World Rugby for this serious error," the union's statement says.
"The HKRU also sincerely regrets any damage to the reputation of the city from the errors committed by the game’s governing bodies regionally and globally."
News of the incident emerged after an outcry over the playing of the same incorrect song at a tournament in South Korea on November 13. Police have said they are investigating the incident in Korea.
The organiser of that tournament, Asia Rugby, has apologised, saying it was “an innocent mistake” made by an intern.
Chief Executive John Lee, for his part, said the authorities will write to the organisers of the rugby matches to express dissatisfaction and ask them to look into the incidents, saying they had the responsibility to ensure the official version of the anthem was played, with the correct description.
He added the government will provide with them the correct material and information, and request them to ensure such incidents will not happen again.