One country, two teams: the cultural politics of football in Hong Kong

  • Tobias Zuser

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Amidst China's escalating pursuance of placing football in the centre of its soft power propagation, Hong Kong has remained entirely excluded from the accompanying policy strategies of the Mainland. Following the 1997 handover and with it the return to Chinese sovereignty, the former British colony has retained its independent memberships in global governing bodies, such as FIFA or the IOC, making sports the last cultural and political arena in which Hong Kong and China compete as two - de facto equal - national entities. While the status quo of this framework is not necessarily controversial, the popularity of football in both locales has created a new public platform for identity politics. At the same time, Hong Kong's marginalization of sports development has raised questions over the value and expediency of sport within the local policy regime. Formerly known as the "Football Kingdom of the Far East", interest and investment in domestic football have declined since the late 1980s, evoking a sense of crisis and nostalgia. However, as a cultural practice football has shown resilience throughout the years, leading to a reform process and on-going debates over public subsidies. Drawing upon the fields of cultural studies, sociology of sport, history, and cultural policy studies, this dissertation argues for the conceptualization of football as a cultural resource that is not just a mirror of socio-political constellations, but also a productive force in shaping leisure, consumption, and everyday life in the city. The overarching, and seemingly simple research question of this dissertation is therefore: how is sport - and in particular football - a culture in Hong Kong? And, how can a cultural understanding of sport contribute to the challenges of sports policies? As such, this project takes on a holistic approach to frame an understanding of local football culture through and between four different themes: history, policy, fandom, and national identity. Starting from early colonial times, the dissertation first aims to trace the cultural resonance of football in local society by using the intellectual discourse around cricket's Indianness as a so called inter-Asian reference to reflect on the particular context that enabled the rise of another sport in Hong Kong. Instead of nurturing a regional identity, local football was turned into a trans-national project of Chinese modernity. From there the research delves into a policy analysis to investigate the institutionalization, governance, and reformation of local football until now, and how it evolved as a Bourdieusian cultural field. Eventually, the research draws on its long-term ethnographic fieldwork to investigate the agency of fans and how local football has attracted subcultural practices with entrepreneurial traits that function as cultural resources. This culminates in the discussion of localist and nationalist sentiments based on the (auto-)ethnographic experience at the two 2015 World Cup games between Hong Kong and China in an attempt to contextualize the politicization of the spectacle within the cultural framework of local football. By proposing a cultural argument along notions of cultural resource, and cultural field, this dissertation argues for a culturalization of sport in cultural studies and policy-oriented discourses, and hence a conceptual move towards a cultural policy of sports.

Date of Award21 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorJohn N. ERNI (Supervisor)

User-Defined Keywords

  • Soccer
  • Political aspects
  • China
  • Hong Kong
  • Social aspects

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