Critics slam Australian rugby star Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins over videos for Hong Kong Tourist Board

Former Australian rugby player Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins has been accused of “supporting a government that violates human rights” after starring in a blind campaign by the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB).

The three-part “Honey Badger x Hong Kong” video series, in which Cummins visits tourist attractions and tries his hand at the martial art Wing Chun, was not listed on YouTube, meaning the clips could be viewed by those who had a link but did. do not appear on the HKTB channel. They were uploaded last Friday and garnered several hundred views each.

“Want to travel like a local? Cummins asks in a video, before adding, “Ride the Ding Ding”, as he sat aboard the tram – without a face mask – wearing a straw hat and holding a silk fan. Commenters on social media were quick to note Cummins’ lack of face coverings, which are currently mandatory just about everywhere, including on public transport and outdoors.

“This video is for publicity and creative purposes only,” reads the blurb below the video. “Please wear a mask and comply with the latest regulations and guidelines issued by the Hong Kong SAR government.”

Cummins hops off the tram at the Star Ferry before heading to Sham Shui Po, where he visits vinyl enthusiast Ah Paul, orders a fan cheung from Hop Yik Tai and browses the electronics on offer at Apliu Street, “where locals go on a treasure hunt.

In a still image that accompanied media coverage of the video series, Cummins appears to be lifting a bowl of beer in the recently closed Tung Po kitchen. The decades-old restaurant – which was endorsed by HKTB – was forced to close last month after the Department of Food and Environmental Health said it had breached the terms of its rental agreement.

According to marketing industry magazine Mumbrella, the campaign, which was due to run from October 5 to November 28, was “designed to entice Australian travelers to return to Hong Kong soon”.

However, it seemed to strike a nerve with some. Jane Poon, who leads the Australia-Hong Kong Line, a community ‘supporting democracy, freedom, the rule of law and human rights[s]” in Hong Kong, Told According to Australian newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald, Cummins “endorsed a government that violates human rights”.

“The people of the city are in trouble because of what the government is doing. By taking these jobs, celebrities are supporting a government that is condemned by the international community,” Poon reportedly said.

Former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui, who left the city in 2020 while out on bail and eventually settled in Australia, told the Sydney Morning Herald: “I have sympathy for these businesses, especially small businesses. But the advertisements treat Hong Kong as if nothing had happened.

“It’s not business as usual at all. It’s a very depressing situation that Hong Kong is going through,” Hui told the newspaper, adding that “Considering all the brutal crackdowns Hong Kong has experienced over the past three years, Hong Kong is no longer as glamorous as it is. ‘before”.

Hui was sentenced in absentia to three years and six months in prison for contempt of court last Thursday.

A spokesperson for HKTB told HKFP that the video series was launched by its Sydney office on Wednesday “on Cummins’ social media story…and has yet to be listed on YouTube for release. later”.

The series was produced in January 2020, the spokesperson said, “with the aim of promoting Hong Kong’s diverse experience…with a local Australian rugby athlete to better engage consumers in the source market, at a time where anti-pandemic measures were not yet taken. in place in Hong Kong.

As the pandemic worsened and restrictions were introduced, promotional videos were shelved. However, with the recent relaxation of some entry requirements and ahead of the Hong Kong Sevens in early November, “HKTB’s Sydney office has rolled out the video series with the aim of promoting Hong Kong as an international travel destination.”

HKFP has contacted the Australian creative agency behind the videos, Always Human, for comment.

Covid curbs

Hong Kong ditched its controversial hotel quarantine for arrivals in late September, marking the end of a Covid-19 policy blamed for undermining the city’s international status and hurting its economy, which is expected to take some time to unravel. to re-establish. The charity Oxfam Hong Kong released its latest poverty report on Wednesday, revealing that the wealth gap had widened during the pandemic.

Photo: GovHK.

Restrictions remain in place for inbound travellers, who are now subject to three days of ‘medical surveillance’ upon arrival, during which they receive an amber QR code via the government’s contact tracing app which prohibits them from entering. enter places such as restaurants, gymnasiums or bar. The “0+3” arrangement, as it is called, should not attract tourists to the city.

Residents must also adhere to social distancing measures, including a four-person limit for group gatherings, mandatory mask-wearing and the use of a vaccine pass to enter certain types of premises. .

Civil society

Hong Kong’s civil society has largely collapsed since the enactment of the National Security Law in June 2020, with at least 58 organizations – including trade unions, churches, media groups and political parties – disbanded since 2021 This has drawn international criticism, most recently from the US Congressional Executive Commission on China, which released a report condemning the legislation’s “devastating effect” on “Hong Kong’s once vibrant society”.

The Hong Kong government called the report “totally biased” and said human rights and the rule of law were protected by security law and any suggestion to the contrary was “completely unfounded”.

Alliance of Hospital Authority Employees. Photo: Alliance of Hospital Authority Employees, via Facebook.

Press freedom has also suffered, with a recent index released by the Hong Kong Journalists Association revealing that 97% of media professionals in the city believe the press freedom environment has gotten “much worse”. over the past year, while 53.5 percent of the public expressed the same sentiment.

City leader General Manager John Lee has repeatedly said press freedom is not under threat, however. Speaking at an event organized by the media industry last month to celebrate China’s upcoming National Day, Lee called on invited reporters to convey Hong Kong’s “good message” to the world.

During his speech, Lee warned journalists to distinguish right from wrong and to keep their distance from “fake media” and “evil elements” who “destroy press freedom”.

Authorities said they were considering enacting a “fake news” law to combat misinformation. Critics say such legislation could be weaponized to clamp down on news outlets and further stifle press freedom.

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