League

HKFA chairman rejects need to apologize

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HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-kay promised more discussion around gender inequality in local football but stopped short of taking a stand against it. He also dismissed the possibility of implementing VAR in the short-term and called Lee Man’s Sapling Cup row “regrettable”.

The Hong Kong Football Association held their Annual General Meeting on Tuesday night and for the second straight year, the meeting was held behind closed doors.

Because the 2020 edition of the meeting had been delayed until 30 September last year, the short turnaround between the two editions meant that this year’s agenda was relatively light. After thirty minutes, the AGM was adjourned and HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-kay met with reporters to discuss the recent controversies surrounding local football.

At the top of the list were referee Gigi Law’s accusations of gender discrimination against Happy Valley head coach Pau Ka-yiu and sexual harassment against Valley player Lam Hin-ting. Pui stated that while the Disciplinary Committee would handle any review involving Lam, he promised to discuss Pau’s remarks about Law when the board of directors meet on Thursday.

“The red card issued during the match [to Lam] is under the preview of the DC. It will be dealt with in accordance with procedures,” he said. “The comments made by the coach about the referee will be discussed by the board. We need to confirm that the transcript of his comments were true, and we must give Happy Valley a chance to explain them.

“I hope that once everyone has settled down, we can begin to have thoughtful discussions.”

The incident comes at a time when other similar incidents have brought to light the inequality of opportunity that women footballers face in the local game. Two Women’s League matches were postponed on 20 March after the referee noticed that the size of the two goal frames were different at Tsing Yi Northeast Park. The following day, two more matches were cancelled at Po Kong Village Road Park when players noticed that one of the goal frames was tilted.

The bent goal frame at Po Kong Village Road Park. (Credit: Wan Yuen-hung)

Although the chairman maintained steadfast the Happy Valley duo had a right to due process, he acknowledged that there needs to be a conversation about gender inequality in local football. “In this day and age, these issues have become very sensitive,” Pui said. “Gender inequality exists worldwide and presently, women’s rights, human rights, and various other power imbalances are all equally important to talk about. But an incident has happened, a complaint has been filed about it and the board will discuss it at once.”

Pui refrained to comment further on the complaints against Lam and Pau as the matter may eventually wind up in the courts.

Recently, a petition started by Major League Football Academy women’s player Cecily Radford has been circulating around local football social media circles. In the petition, Redford wrote, “For years, women have struggled to be given anywhere near the same respect in sport that men are given. Women in sports are underpaid, undervalued and underfunded at every level, all over the world. The recent comments only serve to highlight these inequalities.”

Redford added that she felt “disheartened” and “weak” as a result of Pau’s comments. The petition, which has received over 600 signatures, urges both Pau and the HKFA to apologize and to take “appropriate action”.

In response, however, Pau insisted that the HKFA would take the matter seriously but rejected the notion that the organization had anything to apologize for.

“Neither the HKFA, nor the board, nor any of our staffers were responsible for [Pau’s remarks],” the chairman replied. “If you want to demand an apology from the coach, that’s a different story.

“Everyone has a different opinion on the matter. But if you feel that there’s something wrong with what someone said or did, then we should review and discuss it – and that’s what the HKFA are doing.”

Pui stated that if the transcript of Pau’s (above) remarks were accurate, the matter will be referred to the Disciplinary Committee. (Credit: Happy Valley)

Lee Man’s decision to withdraw deemed “regrettable”

Earlier, on Tuesday afternoon, the HKFA declared Lee Man to have officially withdrawn from the Sapling Cup and simultaneously announced that the Final would be contested between Happy Valley and Eastern. The Bees announced previously on 27 February that they would boycott any re-arrangement of the semi-final against Happy Valley as they believe that the match should be declared a forfeit in their favour.

Valley were originally punished with forfeiture of all of their matches until the club paid their overdue insurance premiums, plus a further seven days. But the HKFA later declared that the semi-final would not take place on the originally scheduled date of 24 February, giving Valley the opportunity to escape forfeiture of the match.

Pui confirmed that the board will discuss Lee Man’s withdrawal on Thursday but noted the DC would ultimately handle any punishment. Although the club could face a maximum fine of $80,000, he stated, “Withdrawal is a matter for the DC to adjudicate but I personally believe that the incident was caused by a misunderstanding. I hope that any punishment will be lenient.”

As a consequence of their decision, the Bees became the first club in Hong Kong to deliberately boycott a match since 2005. On 24 September of that year, Sun Hei were due to face Rangers at Mong Kok Stadium but asked for the match to be rescheduled. The club were scheduled to fly to Lebanon that same afternoon in order to take on Al-Nejmeh in the AFC Cup.

When neither the HKFA nor Rangers agreed to their request, the club refused to turn up at Mong Kok and took their flight as scheduled. The DC later declared the match a forfeit and Sun Hei were forced to pay half of the operational expenditures for the match.

More than 15 years later, it is believed that the incident still sticks in the crawl of management at Sun Hei.

VAR not in the cards…for now

On Sunday, yet another controversial refereeing decision stirred debate within local football circles. This time, it was referee Liu Kwok-man who was the culprit when he adjudged Pegasus’ Kessi to have been fouled inside Lee Man’s box.

The foul – and subsequent penalty – prompted Bees head coach Chan Hiu-ming to call for a study of whether video assistant referee could be implemented in a low-budget scale for Hong Kong.

“Sometimes, it’s not about whether the referee’s performance is good or bad. It’s about recognizing that they’re all human beings and sometimes, they can’t see everything clearly,” he said. “Referees are not infallible. I’ve often asked: With so much government funding in the HKFA, can we not divert more resources into the Premier League? VAR indeed requires more cameras to be installed, but is it still feasible with lower quality cameras?

“This must be studied because if the referees can access replay, they may overturn their decisions. The effect of a penalty on the outcome of a match is too great not to have VAR.”

FIFA and the IFAB require at least eight cameras to be installed, one of which must be capable shooting video at 150-180 frames per second. The HKFA have previously estimated the cost of VAR to be more than $1 million per match.

Pui responded to questions about VAR by saying that the HKFA would continue to study its feasibility but dismissed the possibility of implementing the technology in the short-term. He stated that the HKFA would continue to work to try and strengthen communication between players and referees.

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