by AFP/ pic by AFP
HONG KONG – Badminton’s Hong Kong Open began Tuesday despite fresh pro-democracy protests across the financial hub with a number of the city’s players qualifying for the main draw to delight their home fans.
The badminton showpiece is one of the few high-profile sports events to go ahead in the city during five months of increasingly violent demonstrations.
The BWF Super 500 event, featuring many top players from mainland China, had been thrown into doubt by the police shooting of a demonstrator and a man being set on fire by protesters on Monday.
But there was a large attendance with occasional shouts in Cantonese of “add oil” – an oft-used sporting chant to urge on players that has been adopted by the pro-democracy movement.
Cheung Ying Mei was up at dawn to battle traffic and the crippled city transport system to get to the Hong Kong Coliseum venue on time, but it was worth it after her 21-10, 20-22, 21-19 win against Indonesia’s Lyanny Alessandra Mainaky.
Cheung will face Denmark’s Line Hojmark Kjaersfeldt in the women’s singles first round on Wednesday.
Hong Kong mixed doubles pair Ng Tsz Yau and Yeung Ming Nok had a bitter-sweet win over compatriots Yeung Shing Choi and Ka Yan Fan 21-14, 21-13.
“They are our team too,” Ng said but Yeung declined to give an opinion on the protests, emphasising that they hadn’t affected the tournament.
“Even in the city, with what is happening, they (fans) also come in to cheer,” adding the crowd was “supporting all of Hong Kong, everything.”
Yeung then teamed up with Chang Tak Ching in the men’s doubles to beat Taiwan pair Chang Ko-chi and Lu Chia-pin 21-18, 21-17.
“We played well,” said Chang. “The Hong Kong people cheering helped us.
“The audience are really great. Outside even though people are protesting, we sill focus on the match.” The pair face China’s Ou Xuanyi and Zhang Nan in the first round.
The top seeds – including men’s world number one Kento Momota (picture) of Japan and Chinese rivals Shi Yuqi and Chen Long – will begin their campaigns on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for governing body the Badminton World Federation (BWF) told AFP: “All possible avenues regarding the security and status of the tournament has been looked into.
“The number one priority is and will always be the safety of the athletes, player entourage, officials, spectators and staff and this has been factored into all decisions.”