Hong Kong marathon runners on Sunday were ordered to cover up “political” slogans and tattoos before being allowed to compete at the first major sporting event in the territory in almost two years.
According to local media reports, runners reported being told to cover or remove slogans, including idioms like “add oil” (加油) — a phrase which was widely heard during the 2019 protests, but is also a ubiquitous term of encouragement.
Hong Kong’s Citizen News reported that one runner was escorted to a changing booth by police during a security check, and told to change her shorts because of a small printed slogan on the side which was deemed “political.” Another man was reportedly told to cover his tattoos in tape.
About 15,000 runners took part in the Standard Chartered marathon, the first major group sporting event since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and also since the introduction of Hong Kong’s National Security Law.
Since the legislation’s introduction, the territory has become a politically hypersensitive environment, with expressions of dissent or opposition frequently punished. Authorities have also been accused of using pandemic restrictions to effectively outlaw political gatherings and protests.
Ahead of the marathon, organizers had warned participants to avoid political expression, releasing a statement to “emphasize that political elements and slogans should play no part in sports events.”
“The organizers strongly condemn anyone who makes use of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon as a platform for conveying and promoting political messages,” it said, warning of a “zero tolerance” approach, which might see them get law enforcement involved.
Authorities also prepared heavily for the sporting event, with police on Saturday saying its counterterrorism units would be deployed on the race route.
Hong Kong Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip (聶德權), who competed in the half marathon, said the race’s return was a sign of Hong Kong’s success in controlling COVID-19, the South China Morning Post reported.
The number of competitors was smaller than previous years, as foreign entrants were unable to take part.
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