Few would dispute that football is a popular sport in Hong Kong. Yet with literally hundreds of football pitches around Hong Kong, there is still unmet demand for football facilities. Imagine other up-and-coming sports with more specific venue requirements…
Ice hockey, for example. With over 1,300 active players and growing.
Ice sports probably suffer more acutely from the lack of facilities in Hong Kong. Thomas Wu, Vice-President of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) for the Asia/Oceania region, agrees. “One of the biggest challenges we face when promoting the sport of ice hockey in subtropical Asia is facility – indoor ice rinks, to be precise. Beginners may start off with in-line hockey or training on synthetic rinks but as they progress, they will need access to the ice. For high-level training and competitions, there is, unfortunately, no substitute for real ice”
“Ice time in Hong Kong is probably the most expensive in the world according to IIHF information. Not exactly a record for Hong Kong to be proud of”
“All the ice rinks in Hong Kong are commercially owned. Even though rink operators are very supportive of the sport, they are under pressure to operate under commercial principles. Securing sufficient ice time for ice hockey training at reasonable rates and hours has always been a challenge”
There are currently 6 commercial ice rinks in Hong Kong, 5 of which are located inside shopping malls. Of these 5, only 4 allow ice hockey to be played and only 1 of them meets the minimum dimensions of a standard international-size ice rink fit for staging international ice hockey competitions. Supporting rink facilities such as changing rooms, facility rooms and spectator stands are absent.
“Considering the shortage of ice time in Hong Kong, the ice hockey community has been exceptionally resourceful and hardworking over the years in making the best of what we have in promoting the sport. Despite ice time constraints, we are seeing continuous growth in player numbers, especially among youths”, said Wu, who also founded the Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey.
While club-based teams have had a long history of participating in regional ice hockey training camps and competitions, “Team Hong Kong” participated in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in the Men, Women and Under-18 Men categories earlier this year for the first time in many years.
“The opportunity to represent Hong Kong at international games has raised the bar for the ice hockey community in Hong Kong. Aspiration runs high among players, and clubs are now becoming more focused on the sustainability of their training programmes across all age groups in the hope of developing a regular stream of players who could qualify to play for Hong Kong”, says Wu.
“Team Hong Kong” will again participate in next year’s IIHF World Championships. “I wish the teams can have more ice time in Hong Kong to train as they try to improve their game performance over their last tournament”
2015 will also see Hong Kong hosting its first ever IIHF World Championship tournament – the Women’s Division II Group B Qualification tournament – from 18-21 February 2015. Participating countries include Turkey, South Africa, Bulgaria, and the host, Hong Kong.
Wu and other stakeholders in Hong Kong ice hockey have been instrumental in bringing the tournament to Hong Kong. “Our rink may fall short in terms of supporting facilities, but our ice hockey culture is thriving and we are committed to making the tournament a success”
The need for a dedicated rink for ice hockey is now stronger than ever. “We are already maxing out available ice time. With Hong Kong participating in the annual IIHF World Championships and hosting a World Championship tournament, we can foresee a surge in demand for ice time both to accommodate new interest in the sport as well as to provide for additional training for competitive players. It is crucial for the development of the sport that the enthusiasm and momentum generated by these events be captured. Lack of ice time is a big hurdle in the way”
“The IIHF fully supports the development of ice hockey in Asia. There are plenty of international training initiatives and tournaments that Hong Kong could either take part in or host. If we have a dedicated rink in Hong Kong, there is no reason why Hong Kong cannot also become a regional platform for ice hockey development”
“I reckon that land resources are scarce in Hong Kong and there are competing priorities for land use. Ideally, it will be good to have at least one dedicated facility of international standard for ice hockey. It will be a big booster for the development of the sport”, says Wu, who is also a Board Member of the Hong Kong Sports Institute since 2009.