Hong Kong, 15 December 2021: Just over two years ago – mid-protests and pre-Covid – I took part in a panel discussion on sports law at the LAWASIA Conference in Hong Kong. In doing so, I gave a presentation highlighting several historical examples of litigious sports disputes, both here and overseas, where the action shifted from the pitch, track or arena to the courtroom. In each case, the issues were contentious, complex and involved considerable sums of money. The winners, of course, were the lawyers.
But there was nothing, absolutely nothing, in my PowerPoint to compare with what we witnessed on Sunday evening as the Formula One season ended in acrimony, confusion and farce at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. A series of highly controversial – some would argue unprecedented – decisions by the under-pressure race director saw Lewis Hamilton, bidding for his record-breaking eighth world title, denied at the last by upstart rival Max Verstappen, who was crowned champion instead.
Four hours after the race finished, the drivers’ respective teams – Mercedes for Hamilton and Verstappen’s Red Bull Racing – were still arguing in the stewards’ room. Having seen their appeals dismissed there, Mercedes could yet take their grievances further, even as far as the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, a nightmare scenario for the sport. As we watched events unfold, my seven-year-old grandson (and Hamilton uber-fan) Nathan was incensed, insisting Verstappen should be disqualified and made to clean the other drivers’ cars as punishment. He will make a fine judge, one day, will young Nathan.
We have another race of sorts, hopefully less rancorous and confusing, taking place in Hong Kong this Sunday: the Legislative Council election. It is the first LegCo poll to be held since Beijing overhauled our electoral system to ensure only “patriots” run this city and opposition parties, unimpressed with the new format – which includes a vetting process for would-be candidates – are giving it a miss. Hence, only a handful of moderate or centrist hopefuls are standing in an effort to break a near-total monopoly by the pro-establishment camp.
Political observers predict the turnout will be low, a likelihood which has caused various members of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s cabinet to take to social media to urge citizens to vote. Leading the way last Sunday was Financial Secretary Paul Chan, who defended the revamp – under which the number of directly elected seats has been slashed – as “an improved electoral model” which will enable our government to play to its strengths. He added that Hong Kong should learn from the Chinese Communist Party, which had “historically solved the problem of absolute poverty” under its leadership. Let us hope so: some of you may be familiar with my recent posts concerning this city’s chronic housing shortage and glaring inequality.
Carrie, meanwhile, appears comfortable with the likely low turnout, insisting in an interview with the Global Times it will “not mean anything”. In fact, she believes, it could well indicate public satisfaction with the existing government. Hmm. For the record, ladies and gentleman, I will be voting this Sunday.
Of course, the election takes place against the backdrop of the pandemic and ongoing – indeed raging – debate about this city’s zero-Covid strategy. The new Omicron variant is spreading at an unprecedented rate globally and Hong Kong has reacted emphatically, moving any country with an Omicron case into its Group A highest risk category, meaning residents returning from such places must undergo 21 days quarantine. Yet Mainland China, which has just reported two such cases, is exempted. Indeed, citizens coming back from there can skip quarantine completely under the Return2HK scheme.
“Double standards!” is the cry from frustrated travellers. Not so, insists respiratory medicine expert Dr Leung Chi-chiu, who argues the exemption is justified given that the Mainland and Hong Kong are aligned in their zero-Covid approach. For some considered perspective on Omicron and our city’s pandemic policies, I again recommend the latest podcast from Dr David Owens and Professor Ben Cowling.
In closing, I should mention we were delighted to host the BC&C Christmas Party last Friday, a welcome return to normality after its Covid-enforced cancellation in 2020. Some 80 guests – staff, families and former colleagues – made it our biggest ever gathering and there was much good-natured rivalry between tables in games of charades, guessing festive tunes played backwards and a trivia quiz. The winners, of course, were the lawyers.
Merry Christmas, everybody!
Boase Cohen & Collins