Coffers opened for HK's athletes
By ALVIN SALLAY
THE populist view that there is no money in Hong Kong sport was discredited for good yesterday when it was revealed that some elite athletes would receive up to $200,000 per year in grants from three specially set up funds dedicated to providing financial assistance.
The Sports Aid Foundation Fund and the Sports Aid for the Disabled Fund have allocated $6.15 million to 142 athletes for 1998-99 - a staggering 35 per cent increase from last year.
In addition, a further $670,000 has been dished out from the SAR's third fund - the Hong Kong Athletes Fund - to 18 leading athletes from 11 sports.
The myth that sport does not pay in Hong Kong has lost its ring of truth these days when one looks at the sums being handed out by these three funds that are all administered by the Sports Development Board (SDB).
At the very top, athletes do get their due rewards. And with the SDB promising to set up a structure whereby sports can become a career for athletes after their life on the fast track has ended, it seems that the foundation has been laid for the future growth of sport in this town.
'Yes, some of the top athletes get quite a lot of money,' admitted Dennis Whitby, former director of the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
Although no names were revealed, it is not hard to speculate which of the SAR's leading athletes are in the frame.
Heading the list of recipients this year are windsurfers Lee Lai-shan and Wong Tak-sum, rower Fenella Ng Kar-loc, table tennis players Chai Po-wa and Chan Tan-lui, wushu's Ng Siu-ching, squash star Faheem Khan, swimmer Fong Lik-sun, triathlete Lee Chi-wo and wheelchair fencer Cheung Wai-leung.
The money mostly helps elite athletes make up for their loss of income during training and competition and, in some cases, covers for their academic costs.
While everything looks rosy at the moment, a senior government official yesterday warned that the 'well could dry up soon' if other means of replenishing the three funds were not found.
'There is an amount of money which has been very conservatively invested. At the moment we are living off its interest. But with the cost of living going up every year, inflation and the increased number of athletes we support, it is not hard to see that the well could dry up,' said Jonathan McKinley, principal assistant secretary (recreation and sport) of the Home Affairs Bureau.
While the Government chips in with what it can - which is always less than what is wanted - philanthropists do their bit.
'After San San won her gold medal, there was a lot of support from the public,' said McKinley.
Yesterday the SDB urged the public to support athletes more. But as nothing succeeds like success, in the end it will be up to the athletes themselves to show that they are worth every cent.