Time to put 'mega' back into the MEF
It's good that the Mega Events Fund (MEF) has relaxed its rules about who can apply for a helping hand from the government to run events that will help raise the city's profile as well as attract visitors.
By allowing commercial organisations to apply for funds from the HK$150 million kitty, the people behind the MEF have admitted that they were wrong in the first place to restrict applicants solely to non-profit organisations. It took them three years to realise this.
Departing chairman of the MEF, Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, admitted that without the involvement of for-profit organisations, it would be difficult to attract the best athletes to Hong Kong. Duh!
Everyone knows that this is a town which worships heroes. Big names are a must for any tournament organiser if their event is to be a crowd-puller. Lam and company seem to have awoken to this fact only now.
'Some asked us why we were not inviting teams like Real Madrid or Manchester United, but they are profit-making organisations,' lamented Lam. What Lam and others at the MEF had failed to understand was that the only people who would make the attempt to stage an event featuring such big teams are those who are in it for the money.
Also the fact that just under HK$51 million was disbursed since the fund was set up in 2009 with an initial pool of HK$100 million, goes to show how much red tape an applicant has to negotiate in a bid to get money. The difficulty in meeting requirements must have turned off many prospective candidates.
It proves once again the mistaken approach adopted in the initial years when only 16 events - arts, sports and cultural - were deemed worthy of support. When you take into account that four of these 16 events received support in multiple years, it meant we only had 12 events fit for support, according to the people at the MEF.
Surely a place like Hong Kong, with its enterprising spirit, could have come up with enough ideas to fill a calendar of events. About 80 organisations did apply, but failed to get funding because of the demanding regulations put in place by the MEF.
So while saying last week that it had relaxed the rules, the MEF should also have apologised to those entrepreneurs who were shunned.
Instead, we are left with the impression that the bureaucrats at the MEF seem not to have learned a lesson. Lam, for example, said the raison d'etre of the MEF was to 'be an incubator to nurture Hong Kong's mega events'.
Why would the MEF want to act like a mother hen? Surely it should just be an agent for growth, a catalyst which can inject a huge amount of money and help smooth the path for a major event to take place.
It is not the MEF's job to create a new event and then 'incubate' it into a thriving adult. That would be a waste of time and against the mandate of the fund. But Lam insists that the MEF is here to help build a brand.
Citing the Hong Kong Sevens as an example, Lam says the rugby tournament has been going on for decades 'yet it's only in recent years that it has become a popular attraction'.
The Hong Kong Sevens has been popular through the years. Its move from Hong Kong Football Club to the old government stadium was due to the crowds getting bigger. The reason for the old stadium being upgraded into the current 40,000-seater venue was also to cater for an increased capacity, mainly for the Sevens.
So for Lam to say that only in recent years has the Sevens become a hit is rubbish. It's only in recent years that the government has sat up and taken notice of the So Kon Po showpiece and jumped on the bandwagon. For many years, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union tried to get the backing of the Hong Kong Tourism Board to sell the tournament abroad, but its pleas fell on deaf ears.
Only after the severe acute respiratory syndrome crisis, in 2003, when there was a dire need to rebrand Hong Kong, did the government awaken to the fact that it had a superb and readymade tournament that could help the city shake off the Sars stigma. In fact, the Sevens even went ahead during Sars, one of the few large public events that was not called off, proving to the world this city's resilience.
The government should realise that building a brand is best left to the private sector - like the sporting associations. The MEF's role is to be generous with financial support and keep red tape to a minimum. The MEF should not be an incubator. It should be the engine that jump-starts an event and makes it truly 'mega'. Otherwise, it should change its name to the Mega Eggs Fund.