By Venus Wu and Brenda Goh
HONG KONG/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong noisily protested at a screening of an Olympics badminton match between Hong Kong and China on Friday, in the latest sign of growing tensions over Beijing’s rule.
“Destroy China! We are Hong Kong!” a group of around 100 people chanted as they watched China’s Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei play Hong Kong’s Chau Hoi-wah and Reginald Lee in a mixed doubles preliminary match.
It was the first time anti-China sentiment in Hong Kong had spilled so explicitly onto the Olympic stage. Mainland Chinese Olympians are generally popular in the formerly British-ruled territory.
The live screening was organized by three groups including Hong Kong Indigenous, which has pushed for Hong Kong’s independence. The territory was transferred to Chinese rule in 1997.
Activists and sports fans sat in front of a big screen in Mongkok, a busy shopping district that was the scene of some of the most violent clashes between police and protesters during pro-democracy protests in 2014.
The mood on Friday was peaceful and the crowd dispersed without incident after the match, which the Chinese duo won.
“Hong Kong people have awakened and no longer think they are Chinese. This is because Hong Kong has been increasingly suppressed by Beijing,” said the event’s co-organizer, Simon Sin.
Hong Kong badminton player Chau said in Rio sport should not be politicized.
“We are all friends with China … and I think people should know that sports is not about politics,” Chau told Reuters.
“We compete but we compete just on court.”
Thousands turned up at a pro-independence rally in a Hong Kong park last week.
Last November, hundreds of Hong Kong fans booed as the Chinese national anthem was played during a World Cup qualifier match between the two sides.
(Reporting by Venus Wu and Brenda Goh; Editing by James Pomfret and Andrew Roche)