Hong Kong’s Olympic Racism

Until recently, qualification to represent Hong Kong at the Olympics was determined by length of residence, in keeping with the territory’s dependent status and the multi-ethnic origins of a significant part of its population. But now the Hong Kong government, perhaps abetted by Beijing, is changing the rules in a move that borders on outright racism.

Although qualification by length of residence remains the case with other dependent territories, such as Bermuda, it is being made a condition of joining a Hong Kong Olympic team that individuals have a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport, which requires that the person be of Chinese nationality. This is contrary to practice across the whole Olympic movement.

  1. The Olympic movement bases nationality qualification not on passports but on “sports nationality.” Thus a British passport holder who has lived in Australia for several years would be eligible to represent Australia. In the same way a Canadian permanent resident of Hong Kong should be able to represent the territory.

  1. The implementation of a Chinese nationality qualification for Hong Kong (and also Macao) in effect gives China three representations while depriving non-Chinese national residents any chance to compete for the territory. It also enables mainlanders to qualify very quickly to represent Hong Kong rather than China.

  1. China’s definition of a Chinese national includes an ethnic element. Thus a Malaysian Chinese resident in Hong Kong for a short time may readily be accepted as a national while a person of Indian descent will have great difficulty even if resident for many years and willing to abandon Indian national status.

Hong Kong has only once won a gold medal – wind-surfer Lee Lai-shan in 1996 so its presence is largely irrelevant in the wider scheme of things. But it is not irrelevant to persons such as equestrian hopeful Jennifer Lee Ming-hua, who was born in the US and has a US passport but has lived in Hong Kong for 14 years and has a locally born husband and children. To compete she would have to become a Chinese national and acquire an SAR passport.

The International Olympic Committee is allowing Chinese chauvinism to trump its own rules and ideals. It is time either to make Hong Kong change its qualifications or take it out of the IOC, together with Timothy Fok, the territory’s representative on the IOC, who got there not through sporting achievements but as the son and heir of billionaire property developer and Beijing friend, the late Henry Fok.