Sport, and beyond

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 August, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 August, 1996, 12:00am

There is nothing like a sporting success to boost national pride, or foster civic consciousness. So, while Britain remains in the doldrums after its worst Olympics in 44 years, Hong Kong should not feel shy about making the most of tonight's return home of Lee Lai-shan, the windsurfing queen who has put the territory on the world sporting map.

In some countries, governments could expect to see their opinion poll ratings soar on the back of such a sporting triumph. Elections might even be won or lost on the result. That will not happen in Hong Kong. But if politicians can so readily cash in on San San's success, with the democrats now seeking to involve the Olympic spirit in their fight against the provisional legislature, there is no reason why this feel-good factor should not be funnelled into giving local sports a higher profile.

For too long, Hong Kong has not given sport the attention it deserves. While the community may be as enthusiastic as anywhere else about watching international sports events, participating in them is a very different matter. Despite being surrounded by the sea, an alarmingly high proportion of Hong Kong schoolchildren never even learn to swim.

Partly that is a product of history. In the decades when thousands still struggled to survive on the breadline, sport was a luxury which few could afford. Nor were there many facilities, other than the private clubs for the affluent.

Prosperity has brought changes. Urban and Regional Councils' public facilities have made most sports accessible to the whole community. Even golf is no longer the exclusive preserve of the super-rich, following the opening of a public course in Sai Kung which is struggling to cope with the immense demand.

San San's triumph should now accelerate the process of making Hong Kong more sports-conscious. Politicians can argue over whether to increase government funding. Further resources may be needed since the Sports Development Board complains it is currently under-funded to the tune of $50 million a year. But the key to building a stronger sporting culture is not more money. Rather it is a matter of public perceptions. Sport has a valuable role to play in Hong Kong, providing an outlet for tensions in one of the world's most stressful societies and offering the only form of exercise for many city-dwellers.

If San San's success can make the community more aware of this, then she will not only have put Hong Kong on the world sporting map, but also made a major contribution towards improving the quality of life here.