Athletes' futures at stake as cash dries up

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 June, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 June, 2001, 12:00am

A shortfall of funds could see more than 100 athletes being left high-and-dry without precious grants this year. The Sports Development Board has warned the group of up-and-coming athletes they might not get much-needed money as the demand had outgrown the funds available by up to 50 per cent.

This shock revelation has raised fears the athletes, ranging from rowing to windsurfing, might be forced to quit their sports.

While 90 elite athletes, including windsurfer Lee Lai-shan and cyclist Wong Kam-po, have already received the first instalment of their yearly grants this month, all athletes under the 'potential category' tag have been informed they might not get their annual grants (maximum $30,000) because of insufficient funds. Athletes get disbursements from the Sports Aid Foundation Fund and Sports Aid for the Disabled Fund.

'There is a shortfall of $4.2 million this year. We need $9 million for the scheme, but we don't have the money,' said Cindy Leung, development manager of the Sports Development Board, which manages the two funds. Leung said the reason behind the shortfall was a dramatic increase in the number of budding athletes while the funds available have remained static.

'We have been asking the Government for more funding. We're also looking at other alternatives, including fund-raising campaigns and sponsor support,' Leung said.

'Potential' athletes, who must have performed well in major championships at junior or senior level, are granted a maximum of $30,000, while 'elite' athletes get a maximum of $90,000. The grants athletes receive from the two funds are the main source of financial support aimed at compensating them for lost income.

Windsurfing Association of Hong Kong's administrative director Dennis Chau Wai-keung said: 'Our three windsurfers, including world junior championship bronze medallist Chan King-yin, haven't received anything. They were very disappointed but I'm more concerned about the future of much younger windsurfers. They must have thought that if athletes like Chan haven't received anything, how would they expect to get financial support in the future?'

Rowing head coach Chris Perry said his young rowers were stunned. 'After last year's Asian Junior Championships where they won a lot of medals, they thought, 'I did so well I must be able to get the grants this year'. But they were shocked to find out there is no grant yet.'

He said almost all of his teenage rowers who trained full-time, about 10, were promised grants and he feared some would quit or take up a job if these were not forthcoming. 'They don't expect a lot of money but they need enough to be able to live. It's quite difficult for them just to be given promises,' Perry said.

'I'm concerned I can't keep the younger athletes, who are our future, for more than two years. I know some of my younger athletes worry about whether they can survive in this sport.

'Most are on a subsistence level. We provide them with food and accommodation here, but the amount of money they have to look after themselves is not very much,' he said.

Perry added that the SDB and the Government should give young athletes financial support for a longer period. 'If we want these athletes to give 100 per cent commitment to us, we have to give a commitment to them. We can't just say maybe, perhaps, or in the future. We have to be very clear.'

Leung said the situation has been eased after having raised more than $1 million through last month's Dress Sporty Day. The second instalment of the grants will be delivered in October.

The two funds were set up a few years ago with a capital of $47 million, with the grants coming from the interests generated.