Big Cash boost for elite athletes

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2012, 12:00am


The Hong Kong Sports Institute hopes to double its number of full-time athletes to more than 350 at the redeveloped elite academy after the government increased its funding by 32 per cent to HK$280 million for this financial year.

The government agreed to plough in an additional HK$68 million to support the existing 15 core sports at the institute as Hong Kong targets medals at international games and raises its sights to include the Olympics.

'The government should be applauded for this commitment to Hong Kong's elite athletes,' HKSI chief executive Trisha Leahy said yesterday. 'They have set in place a stable and long-term funding system for the elite training system.'

The Sports Institute received HK$212 million last year. It now supports 184 full-time athletes - 175 across the 15 elite sports, plus another nine from the 11 sports under the Individual Athlete Support Scheme.

The lion's share of the funding - HK$230 million - will be spent on athletes' related costs and services, including HK$65 million for direct financial support to 754 athletes supported by the HKSI across the board - the 15 elite sports, eight team sports, 10 sports which are non-Asian Games or Olympics, and two sports catering to physical and mentally disabled athletes.

'We do not have sufficient athletes training full-time to really have sustainable world-level results,' Leahy said. 'Fewer than 30 per cent of our elite athletes are training full-time and we need to increase these numbers if we are to be more successful in the international arena.

'Even at the Asian level, if you look at the 2010 Asian Games, all our gold-medal winners and 70 per cent of the total medal count was won by full-time athletes. Just imagine if we were able to increase numbers to 50 per cent of the athletes training full time.'

Last July, the government set up a HK$7 billion Elite Athletes Development Fund (EADF) with its investment returns earmarked to enhance the institute's software and expand its programme for the sports under its umbrella. The fund replaced the annual recurrent subvention which was the traditional funding source for the elite academy.

While the first returns from the investments are still to be counted, this year's allocation has come from the capital fund.

Hong Kong has only won two medals at the Olympics: a gold medal by Lee Lai-shan in windsurfing at the 1996 Atlanta Games, and a silver medal in table tennis won by Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching in the men's doubles at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The city's athletes have been more successful at Asian level. At the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, Hong Kong returned with a record haul of 40 medals - eight gold, 15 silver and 17 bronze. Cycling was the most successful sport with four golds.

The existing elite sports are athletics, badminton, billiard sports, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, karate, rowing, squash, swimming, table tennis, tenpin bowling, triathlon, windsurfing and wushu.

'While we would like to increase the number of elite sports - the more we have, the greater the medal opportunities - our pressing concern is to raise standards, not lower them,' Leahy said. 'In the past the HKSI has not been adequately funded to provide the full range of elite services in its elite model. The extra funding we have received will enable us to run the system according to international standards and maximise opportunities for gifted athletes to achieve world standard results.'

The HKSI is undergoing a HK$1.8 billion redevelopment which should be completed early next year. With the hardware in place, a strategic plan was put in place in 2010 to address software issues.

After a wide-ranging consultative process with all stakeholders, including the national sports associations, the consensus was that more resources should be given to high-performance coaching, sports science and medicine, in order to provide a more systematic talent identification service and a flexible integrated education solution for elite athletes.