Stadium faces box rebellion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 May, 1993, 12:00am

THE $850 million Hongkong Stadium is at the centre of a bitter controversy over the way it is to be managed, with Carlsberg threatening to cancel the Chinese New Year soccer tournament and boycott the arena unless it is satisfied with the new arrangements.

At the same time, there are concerns that Wembley International, the company appointed by the council to manage the stadium, may be affected by financial difficulties being experienced by its parent company in London.

Wembley, the leisure company and world famous stadium run by Sir Brian Wolfson, was recently reported by The Sunday Times in London to be ''running deeper into crisis as it reports losses for the second year running''.

It has been claimed that Wan Chai-based Wembley International intends to take control of selling the immensely popular and luxuriously revamped patrons' boxes, possibly on a yearly season ticket basis.

This could result in sponsors Carlsberg, Hongkong Bank and Cathay Pacific being denied the option of entertaining their own guests in the boxes at the Chinese New Year soccer tournament and Rugby Sevens.

The suggestion has infuriated the Hongkong Rugby Football Union, which is vehemently opposed to Wembley having any involvement in the Sevens, even though the union and Cathay Pacific will continue to organise it.

Mr Stuart Leckie, union chairman, said: ''It's a mystery to us why Wembley has been brought in. We've tried to get a copy of the contract that has been drawn up between them and the Urban Council, but have got nothing.

''No one has had the common courtesy to let us know what is happening.'' Carlsberg is equally upset and has threatened that unless a compromise can be reached with Wembley, it will retain the Mongkok Stadium for the Chinese New Year football tournament and consider cancelling other proposed events.

One executive said: ''We will be contacting Wembley to have talks. If it means sponsors' boxes will have to be put around the pitch, no one will want them there and it would mean less room for the public.

''If we want to bring in good teams and we find it's being done for the benefit of Wembley, it's not going to go down very well.

''Carlsberg will not bring in AC Milan at a cost of millions for Wembley to take 25 per cent and for them to say who can watch it free of charge in the boxes.

''The stadium was built for the people, not the Urban Council and Wembley. They could price themselves out of the market and be left with a great big white elephant.'' Urban Council chairman Mr Leung said: ''I think Carlsberg is going too far before we have decided on any policies.

''That kind of strong reaction is not called for and [is] unwarranted. It's an immature, infantile reaction that is unhelpful. We just want to serve the best interests of the community. Let's be calm and sensible.'' Mr Robin Orim, managing director of Wembley International, said: ''Details of how the boxes will be let has not been decided.

''We are aware that comments are being made and we are also aware of what kind of services our customers expect.

''Like a number of companies based in the UK, Wembley has had quite a hard time. I want to ensure the people of Hongkong that our finances here have never been better.''