Referee Gigi Law has formally complained to the HKFA, accusing Happy Valley head coach Pau Ka-yiu and player Lam Hin-ting of sexual harassment.
Happy Valley are making headlines for all the wrong reasons – again.
Almost a month to the day that the club were initially barred from play over unpaid insurance premiums, Valley may again face serious repercussions. This time, the repercussions could come as a result of head coach Pau Ka-yiu and player Lam Hin-ting’s words directed towards referee Gigi Law during last Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Pegasus.
Hong Kong Football Association chairman Pui Kwan-kay, who is also the chairman of Valley, confirmed on Tuesday that he has received two separate letters from Law. In the letters, Law – who is a woman – accused Pau and Lam of sexual harassment and stated that she felt degraded by insults uttered by the pair after the match.
Law has asked the HKFA to address the matter seriously and added that she would lodge a complaint at the Equal Opportunities Commission as well.
During Sunday’s match, neither Pegasus nor Happy Valley appeared to have been pleased with Law’s performance. Highlights from the match showed Pegasus’ Fabio Lopes remonstrating in front of the referee several times but did not appear to cross in the line in the way that the Valley duo have been accused of.
After the final had been blown, Lam was shown a red card after shouting towards Law near the centre circle. The referee alleged in her complaint that she had heard Lam utter something deeply insulting towards her. The full back, however, has claimed that he was complaining about Law’s failure to book Nilson after the Horsemen centre forward removed his shirt during the match.
Leaked audio circulating amongst fans on social media appear to back up Law’s side of the story. In a brief three-second clip, Lam admits to using vulgar language at Law and suggested that the referee did not book Nilson because of a possible sexual relationship between the pair. Offside cannot independently verify the source of the clip, to whom Lam was speaking to, nor the date that the clip was recorded.
Happy Valley are winless through their first five matches in league play and have failed to score in their last 322 minutes of play.
— Lester Chan (@enterchanman) March 22, 2021
Similarly, frustration boiled over post-match for Pau, who was booked in the 82nd minute for dissent.
“This is not about winning or losing. The performance of the referee is there for all to see,” he reacted, angrily. “Will you please write to the HKFA and tell them not to assign any more female referees? I’m not being sexist (but), they simply can’t keep up with the speed of the (men’s) game.
“How many calls did she miss today? She couldn’t see a goddamn thing. She should stick to officiating women’s league matches.”
After receiving backlash, Happy Valley issued an apology on Monday evening: “After discussing with Coach Pau, leadership agreed that the wording of his remarks were wrong,” the club wrote. “Even if the remarks were in response to (Law’s) performance, specific references to gender were unnecessary.
“Therefore, on behalf of the club and the coach, we apologize to anyone who was offended by these remarks and we will take steps to prevent similar incidents from happening again. The team will hold a meeting in the near future to remind players of normal behaviour & speech.”
The level of solemnity to which the club are taking the matter is questionable given that the apology was posted in the evening hours of the day. A little over two hours after the statement was posted on Valley’s Facebook page, the club made what appears to have been a scheduled post promoting a profile on midfielder Charlie Scott, which some cynics may interpret as an attempt to turn the page quickly.
Possible consequences for Happy Valley
The possibility of punishment for Pau, Lam or the club could be very severe given that the HKFA take steps every year to remind players and staff of anti-discriminatory measures.
At the beginning of each season, every player, staff member and match official is required to sign an oath vowing to comply with the HKFA’s Code of Ethics, which overlaps with FIFA’s Code of Ethics. These documents obligate each individual to comply with FIFA’s circulars and directives with respect to fighting against discrimination, racism and match-fixing. The Premier League’s Competition Regulations state that these documents must be signed, “without which (the individual’s) registration shall be void.”
The Disciplinary Code specifically lays out punishment for offensive and discriminatory behaviour. Section 15.2.1 states that “Anyone who offends the dignity of a person or group of persons through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigratory [sic] words or actions concerning race, colour, language or origin shall be suspended for at least ten matches. Furthermore, a stadium ban and fine shall be imposed.”
The next Section, 15.2.2, covers punishment for the clubs. It states, “Where several persons (officials and/or players) from the same club or association simultaneously breach Article 15.2.1 or there are aggravating circumstances, the team concerned may be deducted three points for a first offence and six points for a second offence; a further offence may result in relegation to a lower division.”
Whether a player, staff or official’s contract can be declared null after being found in breach of the Code of Ethics is debatable. What is not debatable is that the punishment for discrimination is laid out in black and white terms, which should theoretically limit the Disciplinary Committee’s discretion. Neither Lam nor Pau can allege a he-said-she-said scenario as the former confessed what he had said and the latter’s remarks were recorded live.
But, as was demonstrated during the insurance premium fiasco, the Board or the Appeals Committee could also step in and overturn any punishment levied by the DC. Valley may also argue that because Section 15.2.1 does not specifically mention discrimination based on gender or sex, the club should be found not guilty on a technicality.
Accusations of sexism mars legitimate claims of poor refereeing
Over the past two weeks, there have been two other refereeing controversies which have made the headlines.
On 13 March, Southern keeper Steven Tse Tak-him was sent off for handling the ball outside of his area – at least, as it was explained to the keeper at the time. Head coach Zesh Rehman expressed frustration post-match, saying, “The reality is, if you want to the standard of Hong Kong football to improve, then the standard of refereeing has to improve.”
But after referee Ng Chiu-kok’s match report was published, the Aberdeeners declined to lodge an appeal when it was revealed that Ng had actually sent Tse off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity.
Happy Valley were involved in an incident a day later when Mikael appeared to have been dragged down in the box by Resources Capital’s Albert Canal. The possible foul, which occurred during the 79th minute when the score was level, could have potentially given Valley a decisive lead and their first win of the league campaign.
However, referee Yu Kin-Fung waved play on and later in the match, he awarded the Pink Ribbons a penalty of their own in stoppage time. Canal slotted the penalty home to deny Valley any points from the match.
This episode of sexism will undoubtedly take the focus off of what were, perhaps, legitimate claims of poor refereeing.