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Hong Kong police tell marathon runners to cover up ‘political’ clothing and tattoos

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Bertha Wang/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Bertha Wang/AFP/Getty Images

Hong Kong marathon runners were ordered to cover up “political” slogans and tattoos before being allowed to compete at the first major sporting event on the island in almost two years.

According to local media reports, runners reported being told to cover up or remove slogans, including idioms like “add oil” – a phrase which was widely heard during the 2019 protests but is also a ubiquitous term of encouragement.

Hong Kong’s Citizen News reported one runner was escorted to a changing booth by police during a security check, and told to change her shorts because of a small printed slogan on the side which was deemed “political”. Another man was reportedly told to cover his tattoos in tape.

About 15,000 runners took part in the Standard Chartered marathon on Sunday, the first major group sporting event since the start of the pandemic and also since the introduction of the national security law.

Since the law’s introduction Hong Kong has become a politically hypersensitive environment, with expressions of dissent or opposition frequently punished. Authorities have also been accused of using pandemic restrictions to effectively outlaw political gatherings and protests.

Related: ‘They can’t speak freely’: Hong Kong a year after the national security law

Ahead of the marathon, organisers had warned participants to avoid political expression, releasing a statement to “emphasise that political elements and slogans should play no part in sports events”.

“The organisers strongly condemn anyone who makes use of the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon as a platform for conveying and promoting political messages,” it said, warning of a “zero tolerance” approach, which might see them get law enforcement involved.

Law enforcement authorities also prepared heavily for the sporting event, with police on Saturday saying its counter-terrorism units would be deployed on the race route.

Civil service chief Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, who competed in the half marathon, said the race’s return was a sign of Hong Kong’s success in controlling the pandemic, the South China Morning Post reported. The number of competitors was smaller than previous years as foreign entrants were unable to take part.

Hong Kong – like neighbouring mainland China and nearby Taiwan – is effectively pursuing a zero Covid strategy despite the rest of the world beginning to open, maintaining tight international border restrictions and hotel quarantine on arrival. Hong Kong’s 21-day quarantine is the longest in the world, and health experts have questioned the necessity of it given the mental health toll of the lengthy period.

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