Snookered by funding woes
Three of Hong Kong's promising young snooker stars are facing an uncertain future as the sport's funding comes under threat.
The government, through the Hong Kong Sports Institute, guarantees financial support for four-year periods to help potential medal winners at international competitions in 'elite sports', such as athletics, cycling, triathlon, badminton, table tennis and, for now, snooker.
However, since the sport will not feature at the next Asian Games, snooker is likely to lose its elite funding.
'The Hong Kong team won many medals at the Guangzhou Asian Games, but now there's no snooker in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, in South Korea, it is unlikely that next April, we'll get full government financial support,' says Alan Wong, Hong Kong's junior team coach. 'It's unfair as our women's team and juniors have been doing very well recently and won prizes in overseas tournaments.'
The news comes as the city's three top junior players, Chan Ming-tung, Chang Yu-kiu and Leong Man-hoi, have shown excellent form.
'This decision will be a blow to our sport. Ming-tung, Man-hoi and Yu-kiu are our big hopes for the future. If we're not among the elite sports, we won't have funding to pay for their training and the chance to play abroad,' Wong says.
'Yet snooker has a big chance to be part of the 2019 Asian Games, but by then, we may not still have the players.'
Yu-kiu, 12, made his mark in February when he became the youngest-ever title-winner at the Hong Kong Under-21 Snooker Championship with a 4-2, best-of-seven-frame victory over favourite Simon Lee.
The 1.34m-tall Year-Six student at Victoria Shanghai Academy, in Aberdeen, first attracted media attention at a junior tournament two years ago, when he wore shoes with a 7.6cm heel so he could reach the table. 'Now I'm wearing a pair with only 5cm high heels as I've grown,' he says.
'At this year's event, my target was to reach the quarter-final; I got to the last 16 last time - my best result - and saw Simon play in the past two finals. I never thought I'd beat him in the final.'
His win secured his place in Hong Kong's 'elite' junior snooker team at this year's IBSF World Under 21 Snooker Championship in Wuxi on July 14.
Meanwhile, Ming-tung, 14, beat 10 rivals to win the round-robin First Hong Kong Junior Super League earlier this year. It also secured his place alongside Yu-kiu in the mainland event.
'Dong Dong', as Ming-tung is known, praised the institute's sports psychologist for helping him improve. 'They encouraged me to rethink the ways I've dealt with problems in past matches, so I'd be better when facing them again,' says the Form Two student at Salesian English School, in Chai Wan, who joined Hong Kong's elite squad in 2010. 'It really improved my consistency.'
Man-hoi, 16, a Form Four student at St Louis School, in Sai Ying Pun, has had a roller-coaster ride as a player compared to his two teammates - he first lost, then regained his elite place two months later, after a dip in form.
'I was playing badly and Nansen Wan took my place,' he says. 'I was really upset at losing my place, but it made me even more determined to regain it.'
His revival coincided with him becoming the youngest player in the history of the Hong Kong Open Championships to reach the quarter-finals at this month's Event One competition.
It was the first of a series of tournaments for promising players over the age of 16 - featuring 250 participants.
'I was taking part in the tournament for the first time, and I beat some seeded players,' he says. 'Having to fight to get back on the elite team toughened me up mentally.'