HK vows to fight olympics exclusion

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am


Stunned officials and coaches fear windsurfing's top-dog position at the Hong Kong Sports Institute is in jeopardy after the sport was controversially replaced by kitesurfing at the 2016 Olympics.

The International Sailing Federation (ISAF) shocked the windsurfing world at the weekend when it axed the discipline, with many federations vowing to rally together to try to get the decision overturned.

'If we are not an Olympic sport we may not continue to get support from the government or the Sports Institute, and it will likely affect our position,' said worried Cowen Chiu But-kau, president of the Windsurfing Association of Hong Kong.

Windsurfing is one of 15 elite sports at the academy which this year received a record HK$280 million in government funding. In addition, the government in 2009 earmarked it, along with badminton, cycling and table tennis, for additional funding of HK$1.5 million annually to train athletes for the London Olympics.

'I'm in total disbelief that windsurfing is out of the Olympics [from 2016],' said Hong Kong coach Rene Appel. 'Our discipline ticks all the boxes the ISAF wants for an Olympic class, but I'm surprised to now find out we have been replaced by a sport with no history.'

Kitesurfing is likened to an extreme sport which combines elements of wakeboarding, surfing, windsurfing and paragliding. Harnessing the power of the wind, large kites or sails propel the rider and the board across the water. The Olympics will involve course racing.

Windsurfing has a proud history in Hong Kong, being the only sport to win a gold medal at the Olympics - Lee 'San San' Lai-shan at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

'We were discussing this last night and she is stunned that the sport will soon be out of the Olympics,' said Sam Wong Tak-sum, husband of San San, who also took part in three Olympic Games at windsurfing.

Windsurfing has been an Olympic discipline since 1984 and has a long history. It came as no surprise that the decision, taken last weekend at a mid-year executive meeting of the ISAF in Italy, has been met with strong opposition. An online petition to overturn the controversial decision has already received more than 8,000 signatures in just two days.

'We are still trying to find out what exactly transpired at that meeting and what can be done going forward,' said Appel. 'There was a recommendation that kitesurfing had potential as an Olympic sport, but that it would only be considered for the 2020 Games. But they have now brought it forward.'

Hong Kong does not have any representation on the ISAF executive committee, but will be present at November's annual general meeting.

'It is very wrong to take a decision like this during a mid-year meeting when not all countries are represented,' said Chiu. 'It looks as if some people were in a hurry to push this through. Our plan will be to form a united opposition with other countries and overthrow this decision.'

The biggest worry for Hong Kong is that with the sport out of the Olympics, the Olympic Council of Asia could follow suit and replace windsurfing with kitesurfing at the Asian Games. If this were to happen, it could be the death knell.

'We can't say what might happen. Right now, we have an Olympics [London] and an Asian Games [2014 in Incheon] to take part in,' Appel said. 'Yes, we have lost the Olympics, but I think the sport is very popular in Asia, and indeed the rest of the world, and that common sense will prevail and it carries on as an Asian Games sport. But there are no absolute guarantees.

'I think it will be tough to overturn the decision as you will need a majority. We don't know how it will play out but it looks like our programme at the Sports Institute will have to go back to the drawing board, for if windsurfing is not part of the Olympics, the ISAF world circuit will not cater for it. We will have to evaluate everything.'

Appel, who has been at the heart of the windsurfing programme in Hong Kong for the past 23 years, will leave next week for London with Olympic representatives Hayley Chan Hei-man, 20, and Andy Leung Ho-yin, 21, to begin preparations.