A group of baseball fans yesterday defied a ban on showing support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests by arriving at the Asian Baseball Championship game between Japan and Hong Kong at National Taiwan University of Sport’s stadium in Taichung dressed in black and carrying banners.
Citing “Olympic rules” banning political or discriminatory slogans, the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association on Tuesday said that “political activities” by spectators at games involving Hong Kong would be prohibited.
Ballpark staff had been instructed to remove all such displays from bleachers, check all entry points and remove anyone found in breach of the rules, it said.
“If fans do not cooperate, they will jeopardize Taiwan’s future participation in the series and the nation’s bids to host games, diminishing its exposure on the international stage and adversely affecting sports development in Taiwan,” the association said.
The statement caused a furor, with some critics saying association officials had buckled under pressure from China and wanted to avoid any action that would displease Beijing.
On online sports forums, people said that the association has always been controlled by powerful figures and organizations connected to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and has long suppressed fans’ expression of pro-Taiwanese independence opinions.
Denis Chen (陳致豪), an administrator of the Web site Light4HK, helped organize yesterday’s defiance.
He posted messages calling for spectators carry banners, dress in black, wear black masks and sit next to Hong Kong’s dugout to show their support for the protesters.
“The association is trampling on the freedom of expression. It cited so-called ‘Olympic rules,’ with which most people are unfamiliar, to obfuscate the issue and hoodwink the public,” Chen said. “It wants to eliminate all forms of support for Hong Kong to please Chinese officials… This is shameful.”
“The ‘Olympic rules’ that were cited are unrelated to banners and flags held by fans. To express my own ideas from the audience at a ballpark is part of freedom of speech,” he said.
“By expressing our support for Hong Kong, we are upholding universal values. We cheer on Hong Kong’s players, not only to encourage them, but also to endorse their courage to fight for their freedom,” he added.
On Monday at a game between Taiwan and Hong Kong at the university’s stadium, several groups of fans dressed in black donned black masks as a gesture of solidarity with Hong Kong protesters.
The mostly young fans carried banners that read: “Free Hong Kong,” “We stand with Hong Kong” and “Defend Taiwan, fight against China, liberate Hong Kong” while yelling out slogans throughout the game.
“We see that Hong Kong people are facing a difficult situation, so for us in Taiwan, we just want to show them our support and give them encouragement,” one fan was quoted as saying by local media.
After Monday’s game, as players from both sides gathered for a group photograph, some of Hong Kong’s players waved at the fans with banners, and several tipped their caps at them and gave them thumbs-ups.
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