Athletics back on track at SDB

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 February, 1999, 12:00am

The Sports Development Board (SDB) yesterday reinstated athletics as a Focus Sport after admitting it made a mistake in originally expelling the code.

In an unprecedented turnaround, SDB chairman John Hung admitted that the body was at fault in its initial assessment of the sport's suitability for elite Focus Sports status.

After hearing an appeal from William Ko Wai-lim, chairman of the Hong Kong Amateur Athletics Association (HKAAA) yesterday at Sports House, Hung agreed that marathon and middle-distance street races should have been taken into account in the original selection process.

Hung chaired the five-member review panel, which also included SDB vice-chairman Billy Kong and member David Yau and two representatives from the Home Affairs Bureau.

'We made a mistake,' said Hung. 'From the early days of the SDB, with regard to activities of the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association, the SDB had traditionally confined its assessment to track and field events [as opposed to street events].' The total number of Focus Sports has now been increased to 12 while the status of gymnastics and tenpin bowling, which also had their hearings yesterday, had yet to be decided because Hung requested more information from the two respective governing bodies.

Gymnastics was axed from the Focus Sports programme, while tenpin bowling is seeking admission after its gold medal success at the Asian Games.

A delighted Ko said athletes deserved the additional financial support that comes with being part of the Focus Sports scheme.

'It is the athletes' benefits that are most important to us,' said Ko. 'After the SDB announced that we lost the Focus Sport status, there were a lot of queries from athletes, clubs and sponsors who were worried that we were not doing enough for the development of the sport.' Ko said he was prepared to sit down with the SDB and discuss how much financial help the sport will receive for the year.

HKAAA vice-chairman Eric Li Chi-wing said that the SDB, in its original assessment, also erred in appraising the performances of top sprinter To Wai-lok, who holds the national record in the men's 200 metres.

'Originally, their decision was based on the silver medal To won in the men's 200m run in a Taiwan event, but actually his best result over the past two years was achieved in the 1997 Asian Junior Championships, in which he finished seventh in a field of 33 runners,' said Li.

In the wake of the blunder, an apologetic Hung said he would appoint a sub-committee to look into the selection criteria to avoid future disputes.

'They [HKAAA] reminded us that there are some new factors that need to be re-considered,' said Hung.

'The SDB is very willing to re-assess the criteria for the determination of Focus Sports. We should finish it in six months, well in time for next year. If they point out our mistakes, we would accept it.' Hung also promised that the gymnastics hall at the Sports Institute would not be dismantled until March next year.