If the SAR's bid to host the 2006 Asian Games achieved nothing else, it woke the community to the possibilities of greater sporting achievement. This densely crowded city needs to develop a solid sporting culture. Until now, it has been too work-oriented. But attitudes are changing, with massive TV audiences for basketball and soccer. The snag is that a city of about seven million people obviously cannot produce enough teams of sufficient standard to form its own international-class leagues.
Hong Kong does not lack stars. It boasts an Olympic champion windsurfer, an international cycling champion and a badminton player ranked 21st in the world. The SAR team brought home 17 medals from the Paralympics, more than ever before. Significantly, Hong Kong triumphs in individual events. Team games lag behind.
There was talk of Hong Kong joining the mainland football league to lift standards. Football's world governing body, Fifa, and the Asian Football Confederation have both urged SAR clubs to do so. Like China's basketball league, with its world class players, soccer there is backed by the US International Management Group, which organises sponsorship and TV coverage. But minor technical obstacles held up the plan. One worry is the effect it would have on sporting autonomy. Arrangements about visas, gate receipts and levies would have to be agreed. Fifa's president Sepp Blatter has already given permission for Hong Kong to play in the national league and believes such problems can be solved. The same is true of basketball.
Many sports would grow by competing in the mainland, where coaching expertise could groom young talent. The Asian Games organisers should trade on their raised profile to pursue this goal. It would foster closer ties with the mainland, without harming autonomy. The SAR would compete under its own flag. When it won, both sides would share glory.