A public apology and appropriate action from Hong Kong Football Association and Pau Ka-yiu

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An open letter to the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA), 

I am starting this petition to urge immediate and comprehensive action to address the systemic sexism apparent within the HKFA, specifically I call on the HKFA to publicly address and correct the recent comments and actions targeted toward a woman’s place in football. 

I am asking for the Hong Kong Football Association to publicly apologise and take appropriate action for the sexist comments made by Pau Ka-yiu, and I am asking Pau Ka-yiu to do the same. 

My sense of urgency in writing this letter cannot be overstated. As a Women’s Football Division 1 player in Hong Kong, I believe that it is my moral responsibility to show solidarity with all women in sport in Hong Kong, in order to ensure a fair future for ourselves and all women and girls for generations to come. 

For years, women have struggled to be given anywhere near the same respect in sport that men are given. Women in sports are underpaid, undervalued, and underfunded at every level, all over the world. The recent comments only serve to highlight these inequities. 

That being said, it has been a momentous few years for women in sports around the world. We have finally entered an era in which female athletes across sports are standing up, speaking out, and demanding their fair share. It’s impossible to overstate the role sports have played in where women are today. Sports have empowered us and taught us determination. They’ve given us the courage to take risks and ask for more – from ourselves and others. 

Yet, whilst we female athletes persevere in the eternal fight for our rights, sexism in sport prevails. This week, I, along with many other female athletes in Hong Kong, am left feeling disheartened and weak. The recent comments by Happy Valley men’s and women’s football coach Pau Ka-yiu targeted toward female referee Gigi Law are entirely unacceptable. Whatever Pau Ka-yiu’s opinion on the officiating capabilities of Gigi Law, he does not have the right to decide what is and what isn’t sexism. His comments made on camera were undeniably sexist and offensive. Sexism is any expression (an act, a word, a gesture) based on the idea that someone, most typically a woman, is inferior because of their sex. It is prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of sex. Make no mistake, in my 15 years of playing football, I would struggle to tell you how many referees I have come across that have frustrated me or made calls that I didn’t agree with. It is in the nature of competitive sport for this to be incredibly frustrating. Players and coaches alike have all called out officials on their decisions, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly, and often people get caught up in the heat of the moment. It happens. Let me tell you what should never happen: someone’s capabilities as a match officiator should never be blamed on their sex, ethnicity, or sexuality. Never. Gigi Law’s refereeing abilities have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that she is a woman. 

One of the HKFA’s missions, as stated on their website, is to “further enhance Hong Kong football development”. The HKFA also states that one of their target goals is to “promote women’s football in Hong Kong”. I am struggling to see how Pau Ka-yiu’s comments align with any of the HKFA’s missions or statements. 

As a footballing association, I urge the FA to ensure that women and girls have equal opportunities to enjoy the benefits of sport through tackling sexism in sport at every level. This includes challenging explicit cases of discrimination and harassment as can be seen in Pau Ka-yiu’s comments, as well as addressing the underlying barriers to equality. I urge you, HKFA, to think about the consequences of this video circulating the internet. Every young girl that will see it, every aspiring female footballer or referee that will hear those words and be discouraged to enter or stay in the game, and every woman who will wait for you to speak out and defend Gigi Law. I urge you to speak up on the right side of this situation. 

It’s time for the disrespect and disregard toward women in sport in Hong Kong to end. It’s time we recognise that a woman deserves her place in sport just as much as a man. It’s time we normalise that women in sport are treated with equality in respect to their ability, their passion, and their dedication, not in respect to their gender identity.

Actions have consequences for women and girls everywhere. For too long, we have let sexism in sport slide and for too long, sporting culture has allowed itself to define and set standards for women. 

To Gigi Law  - I am so sorry. I am so sorry you have been failed here. On behalf of every woman that has ever fought to be treated as equal in sport, I thank you for being brave, and for putting yourself in an arena that has not always been kind to women. I reluctantly say that the challenges we face as women in sport will never stop, but we must keep moving forward. We must keep standing our ground. We must keep being women.

The fight against sexism is not solely a woman’s fight, but a fight for social justice, intergenerational equity, and the viability of future societies that must be taken up by everyone.

It is with these aims in mind, to empower women, that I write to ensure the HKFA does not dissuade the participation of women in football in Hong Kong, and publishes an apology for the sexist comments made. I ask the same of Pau Ka-yiu. I fear that without immediate action, women in Hong Kong will be discouraged from the same benefits their male counterparts enjoy in the world of sport. 

Thank you.