The Hong Kong SAR Government has poured billions into sports development. But is there a clear vision behind the money trail? Yeung Tak Keung, Commissioner for Sports, insists a comprehensive approach has put the city’s needs at the forefront and taken sport to new heights.
HongKongEcho: What is the HKSAR Government’s vision for the Hong Kong’s future as a sporting city?
Yeung Tak Keung: Our promotion of sports development takes a three-pronged approach. First, we promote sports in the community, which we do by working with ‘national sports associations’ (NSAs), district sports associations, schools and other sports organisations to provide more opportunities for people to engage in sports. Some examples of this are the school sports programmes, community sports activities and the annual ‘Sport for All Day’ that we organise to get the general public more involved in sports.
Secondly, we’re actively supporting elite sports development through targeted funding and world-class venues. Sporting role models for our young people are important and we’ve seen local athletes such as Lee Lai-shan (windsurfing), Wong Kam-po (cycling), Marco Fu (snooker), Sarah Lee (track cycling) and Wu Siu-hong (bowling) shine as great examples for Hong Kong’s youth.
Finally, we’re enhancing Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s sports events capital. The high attendance rates at major sporting events show that Hong Kong people are very enthusiastic about watching high-level competitions and supporting our home-grown athletes. Major events are also important for getting the community to take part in sports and physical exercise. Take the Hong Kong Marathon, for example, which has seen its number of participants increase by 70 times since its inception – from 1,000 in 1997 to over 70,000 this year.
Overall, Hong Kong is no longer solely focusing on economic success and academic excellence. More and more people are now interested in sport, arts and culture, and so on, as part of their pursuit of work-life balance and a better quality of life.
HKE: What’s your role in this? Are you driving the vision or implementing it?
YTK: Both indeed. As Commissioner for Sports, I’m responsible for formulating new measures to promote sports development in Hong Kong, implementing our sports policy and programmes, and planning the provision of sports and recreation facilities.
This requires coordination and close liaison with government bureaux and departments, in particular the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, as well as key stakeholders in the sports sector such as the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, China, the Hong Kong Paralympic Committee and Sports Association for the Physically Disabled, the Hong Kong Sports Institute, various NSAs, schools, coaches and athletes.
HKE: There has been a whole swathe of funding announcements in this year’s Budget – what are your first impressions?
YTK: I’m glad that the Government has committed substantial financial resources in the past two years to support the development of sports. In 2017, the Government earmarked over HK$50 billion for providing new or enhanced sports facilities. These include $31 billion for the Kai Tak Sports Park and $20 billion for the 26 projects under the ‘Five-year Plan for Sports and Recreation Facilities’. To cope with the increasing interest and participation in sports, there is an urgent need to provide more and better sports and recreation facilities for athletes and the general public.
Existing funding programmes have also received extra allocations. The injection of $6 billion into the Elite Athletes Development Fund will deliver stable financial support to the Hong Kong Sports Institute who currently provides comprehensive support to about 1,300 athletes, including 450 full-time athletes.
The addition of $1 billion into the Arts and Sport Development Fund (Sports Portion) bumps up its total balance to $2.5 billion, allowing it to continue to support worthwhile programmes such as the ‘Five-year Development Programme for Team Sports’ and local football development.
HKE: You mention the Kai Tak Sports Park – it’s been a lengthy project: what’s the latest?
YTK: It’s now in the tender stage with final submissions to be made by August. From there we’ll complete our assessment and award the design-build-operate contract within 2018. The Sports Park will provide a main stadium, an indoor sports centre and a public sports ground with seating capacities of about 50,000, 10,000 and 5,000 spectators respectively along with a large park with outdoor courts and retail and dining facilities for public enjoyment. These are much-needed facilities for promoting community sports and hosting large-scale sports events in Hong Kong.
Of course, major infrastructure projects usually take some time as we need to conduct detailed technical and feasibility studies and consult the relevant parties such as District Councils, Legislative Council (from whom we obtained funding approval in June 2017) and other relevant statutory bodies. This project is no exception.
HKE: The Sports Park is one thing, but how do you strike the right balance between the private sector and government involvement in creating and attracting large-scale events?
YTK: Commercial interest and sponsorship are essential. We’re delighted to see that the business sector has been joining hands with NSAs in hosting many successful major sports events. They have been providing a wide range of sponsorships including cash, sports science support, equipment and apparel, flight tickets, local transport, accommodation, food and beverages, insurance, media broadcasting, international publicity and telecommunication support.
An event like the Hong Kong Sevens (rugby) is a great example of this and shows the growth in scale and standard of major sports events held here. The addition of new events in the past two years such as the Volvo Ocean Race and Formula E have also been well-received by the community.
On the government side, under our ‘M’ Mark System (‘M’ for major) we help nurture new and existing major sports events by providing matching grants, direct grants, marketing grants and venue support where applicable. We also help pull together the private sector and NSAs for sponsor matching. The new $500 million ‘Major Sports Events Matching Grant Scheme’ will further encourage more sponsorship from the private sector and we’ll continue to look for opportunities to bring more high-level international sports events to Hong Kong in conjunction with NSAs.
HKE: Major events may help to inspire the next generation, but is enough being done at an early educational level to promote sports to young children?
YTK: It’s never enough and more work needs to be done. I’ve been actively participating in different sports since my schooldays and I can see remarkable changes in attitudes. Thirty years ago, most parents wanted their children to focus on academic studies and didn’t encourage them to get actively involved in sport because it wasn’t considered useful for future careers. I never told my parents I was going to play in an interschool competition because they would think it would be a distraction to my study.
Today, however, there is widespread growth in parental support. Over the last ten years or so, more people have begun to realise how good exercise and sport are for physical and mental health, for building team spirit and leadership, for personality development including how to respect rules and opponents and how to accept success and failure. Research has even shown that participation in sport has a positive impact on academic studies. More and more people now see the value of sport and the importance of exercise, diet and nutrition. Many parents come to support and cheer for their children at interschool matches and junior competitions. That would have been beyond imagination in the old days.