In typical HKFA fashion, the board of directors held a meeting. And in typical HKFA fashion, the board of directors decided to kick the can down the road.
The Hong Kong Football Association Board of Directors held a meeting on Thursday where topics including the recent sexual harassment and discrimination allegations, Lee Man’s withdrawal from the Sapling Cup and possible punishment against Pegasus and Happy Valley for late payment of insurance premiums were discussed.
HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-kay spoke to reporters after the three-hour long meeting concluded. Although Pui, who is also chairman of Happy Valley, abstained from a part of the meeting where the allegations against head coach Pau Ka-yiu and player Lam Hin-ting were discussed, he relayed to the media that the matter would be handled entirely by the Disciplinary Committee.
“The matter involving gender discrimination is more complicated because the comments were made to the press, and then the comments were transcribed,” the chairman said, perhaps ignorant of the fact that Pau’s remarks were also recorded on tape. “Whether [his comments] constitute discrimination should be left to professionals to decide; It’s difficult for the board to determine.”
On 21 March, Valley lost 1-0 to Pegasus. Post-match, Pau expressed his discontent with referee Gigi Law’s performance and said that she failed to keep up with the speed of the match because of she is a woman. Law also gave a red card to Lam following the match after the full back allegedly made vulgar remarks towards her.
Two days after the match, Law formally complained to the HKFA, claiming Pau’s remarks were discriminatory and Lam’s conduct constituted sexual harassment. The referee had vowed to write to the Equal Opportunities Commission, though Pui told reporters that the EOC had yet to contact the HKFA about the matter.
The chairman stated on Tuesday that any further disciplinary action on Lam’s red card was under the purview of the DC, while the board had jurisdiction to act on Pau’s comment’s, if they so choose. However, on Thursday, the board decided to refer both incidents to the DC.
The DC were originally scheduled to convene next Tuesday, the 6th, as per their usual schedule but according to Pui, the hearing will be delayed until the 19th in order to give the DC more time to prepare documents. After the hearing, Law, Pui and Lam will be invited to give testimony about the incident.
On Thursday evening, the board issued a statement in “support of equal opportunity and against discrimination of any kind”. The statement comes much too late in the eyes of some observers as much outrage has already been levied against both Happy Valley and the HKFA over their handling of the matter.
DC to rule on Lee Man matter
On Tuesday, Lee Man officially withdrew from the Sapling Cup over the HKFA’s handling of their semi-final against Happy Valley. The Bees were set to be handed a walkover to the final after Valley had been punished with a forfeit after failing to pay their insurance premiums in a timely manner. But after the Appeals Committee overturned this decision, Lee Man announced their intention to boycott any re-arrangement of the fixture.
Pui stated on Thursday that the board would also refer this matter to the DC. “Because Lee Man violated the rules, no matter how the DC decides to act in response, they must first hold a hearing,” he said. “But the board are in agreement that they don’t want any serious punishment to be levied.”
According to Rule 22.3 of the Sapling Cup Competition Regulation, any club who withdraws from the competition after playing one match is subject to a fine of up to $80,000.
On Wednesday, various supporters’ groups signed a joint statement admonishing the HKFA’s handling of the incident and called on all fans to join them in boycotting the final next Wednesday. Pui responded by saying that he understood why fans feel dissatisfied. However, the chairman attempted to pivot away from the criticism by claiming that the Bee’s decision not to carry on with the tournament goes against the Sapling Cup’s mission of providing more opportunities to young players.
The 18 supporters groups who signed the statement allege that bias exists within the HKFA due to Pui’s conflicting roles as both the chairman of HKFA and of Happy Valley. Pui tried to defend himself by clarifying that he is actually the chairman of Happy Valley Athletic Association and not the chairman of the football side. He explained that he has does not participate in the operations of the team and has no say in how the team is run.
Pegasus and Valley to escape without penalty
After the last board meeting, HKFA general secretary Vincent Yuen was infamously testy with reporters who questioned whether the HKFA had effectively allowed Pegasus and Happy Valley to escape repercussions for their late payment of insurance premiums. “How would you know that there won’t be consequences?” he responded, at the time. “At this time, the board haven’t discussed any penalties but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any.”
In his comments Thursday, Pui all but confirmed that the clubs would not be punished over the incident.
“Every other sector in Hong Kong is facing similar problems,” he reasoned. “Some landlords are allowing tenants to defer rent. The government, likewise, gave extensions to [2018/19] tax payment deadlines. The clubs don’t have any money so do you really want to fine them several thousands of dollars?
“If you break the rules, yes, a penalty could be merited but you have to ask whether it’s appropriate to do so? The most important thing right now is to help clubs through this difficult period.”
All of this leads back to the question of whether letting Pegasus and Valley off scot free would set a dangerous precedent? The chairman bristled at those suggestions and reminded reporters that the HKFA expelled Tuen Mun Progoal from the First Division in 2009 for defaulting on insurance premiums.
“It’s not about how many matches [offending clubs] should be banned,” Pui said. “The clubs are not allowed to compete without valid insurance. If the insurance company decides not to accept [late payments], they can cancel the policy at any time. So, no, I don’t accept the charge that we’re encouraging clubs not to pay premiums on time.”
AFC Cup arrangements to be finalized shortly
Regarding plans for the AFC Cup, Pui revealed that the HKFA had reached an understanding with the government that teams travelling to Hong Kong for the group stage would be exempt from the 21-day quarantine, as long as they test negative following arrival in Hong Kong. The chairman cautioned that the finer details still needed to be ironed out and that the government would then need to give their stamp of approval. He hoped that the plans could be finalized by late April.
Hong Kong has been awarded the rights to host Group J involving Lee Man, Eastern, Taiwan Steel of Taiwan and Athletic 220 of Mongolia in mid-May.
Pui added that Hong Kong Stadium would likely be the main stadium for the group and that he hopes the matches will be open for fans to attend.