Chinese giants Guangzhou Evergrande escaped Thursday with a fine and a suspended two-match stadium ban from Asia’s football governing body after supporters unfurled a “British dogs” banner during a match in Hong Kong.
The anti-independence banner, which read “Annihilate British dogs, destroy HK independence poison” in Chinese, was held up during Evergrande’s 6-0 AFC Champions League win over Hong Kong’s Eastern on April 25.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) had last week charged Guangzhou Evergrande “under Article 58 for discrimination and Article 65 relating to spectator misconduct”.
“Guangzhou Evergrande were ordered to play two future matches in AFC club competitions which they host in China PR without spectators, with both matches suspended for a probationary period of two years,” it said in a statement Thursday.
The Chinese side was also fined $22,500.
AFC warned that the suspended sanction would be automatically enforced should any new violations occur.
Former British colony Hong Kong became a semi-autonomous Chinese territory 20 years ago, but independence sentiment has been running high following mass protests against Beijing.
The game was played in a hostile atmosphere in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok Stadium, near where rioting erupted last year which involved pro-independence activists.
Fans from both sides hurled obscenities and gave each other the middle finger, with the Evergrande fans heard chanting “Traitor!”.
One Eastern supporter displayed Hong Kong’s colonial-era flag, which features Britain’s Union Jack, while others booed and swore at the Chinese team.
Evergrande, the two-time Asian champions and winners of the last six Chinese Super League titles, were in trouble with the AFC only last year.
The then defending champions were fined and forced to play their first Champions League game of the season behind closed doors for a string of offences, including wearing the wrong sponsor’s name on their shirts during the 2015 final.
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