Show Super Cup the red card
You have to wonder about the people who walk the corridors of power at the Hong Kong Football Association in Ho Man Tin. Out of the blue, they unveiled plans this week for a new competition next season, the Super Cup. At first glance, it seems innocent enough. But take a closer look and the word 'conspiracy' comes to mind.
The Super Cup is a knockout tournament that will be added at the end of next season to decide who will be the second team to represent Hong Kong at the AFC Cup in 2014. The other spot will be reserved for the First Division league champions.
In the past few seasons, including this year, Hong Kong's two AFC Cup representatives have been the league winners and the Senior Shield champions. Not anymore. The triumphant team in the Senior Shield next year will have to battle it out with the FA Cup champions and the second and third teams in the league in a two-round play-off to decide who will play in the continent's second-tier competition.
In effect, this offers the big teams another bite at the cherry in case they fail to qualify for the AFC Cup by winning either the league or the Senior Shield.
South China, Hong Kong's most popular team, failed to win either tournament last year, resulting in Kitchee (league champions) and Citizen (Senior Shield winners) representing the city in the 2012 AFC Cup. This season, the Caroliners have fared even worse. They haven't won a single trophy, going empty-handed for the first time since 2006, the year Steven Lo Kit-sing took over as convenor of the club.
If the Super Cup was in place this season, South China would still have an AFC Cup lifeline, because by finishing third in the league, which they are likely to do, they would be eligible to feature in the play-offs.
We are not saying the Super Cup is the brainchild of South China; in fact, it is reliably understood that when the idea was first debated by the HKFA board, Lo was absent as he had other pressing matters to deal with - his problems in Macau.
Also the idea wasn't given the nod overnight. It took three meetings of the HKFA board before this scheme gathered momentum and the media got a sniff of it this week. Predictably, the HKFA has refused to comment, saying it is still under discussion.
If this is the case, we urge the HKFA to scrap the idea because it is unfair on the smaller clubs, whose moment in the sun will be clouded by the big guns. As one official of a smaller club said, more hurdles have been placed in their way. In the past, a one-off upset victory in the Senior Shield might have been enough to secure an AFC Cup place. Now there are more obstacles.
Our HKFA insider said that when the Super Cup idea was being talked about - not in one meeting but three - no one had voiced any opposition. That is not surprising, as the smaller clubs are not properly represented on the nine-member HKFA board. This board comprises three independent members, the HKFA's president and its chairman, plus representatives from four clubs - South China, Kitchee, Pegasus and Citizen, who are also the voice of the rest of the clubs in the league.
By the looks of it, these four clubs have sold their brethren short. As one of the smaller club owners said: 'The HKFA should make thorough consultation before implementation.' Hopefully, this is what the HKFA will do and take into account the views of the smaller clubs.
In defence of the Super Cup, Ken Ng Kin, president of Kitchee, raised another issue that is also controversial. He said only the bigger clubs had the resources to make good use of the AFC Cup berths and thus lift Hong Kong soccer's profile.
He has a point. A couple of years ago, South China reached the semi-finals of the AFC Cup, carrying Hong Kong's flag proudly. This season, Kitchee have reached the last 16 and have the potential to go further still. Nonetheless, it is unfair that smaller clubs, without big budgets and player resources, should be penalised by having further hurdles placed in front of them.
What the HKFA should do is provide lucrative prize money for winning the existing knockout tournaments. If the Senior Shield champions, for example 2012 winners Sun Hei, were rewarded with a massive bonanza, perhaps that money could be used by the club to boost their AFC Cup campaign for next season.
The beauty of football - or any sport for that matter - is that the small fry sometimes come out on top. Let's not make it any harder for them.