Asian Games medallists may see cash incentives slashed
Cheung Chi-fai and Quinton Chan
Cash bonuses for Hong Kong medal winners at October's Asian Games may be slashed by half because the Sports Development Board has been unable to secure sponsors for the incentive scheme.
The $500,000 bonus paid to gold medallists is made up of $250,000 from the private sector and the same amount from the board. But with just three months to go before the Games in Pusan, South Korea, the board has yet to receive any private backing, despite having approached at least 10 potential sponsors since March.
The board said that those approached included Hang Seng Bank and several companies that sponsored the scheme for the Asian Games in 1998 in Bangkok.
Hang Seng Bank sponsored similar schemes for the 2000 Olympics and Paralympics, and the National Games last year, giving a total of $1.11 million to nine Hong Kong medallists in the National Games. It also paid $590,000 to Paralympics medallists.
But the bank disputed the board's claim that it had failed to respond to the latest appeal, saying it had not even been approached.
'We'll study it on a project-by-project basis. Apart from the budget constraints, we will study whether the event's objective is in line with the our corporate objectives,' a spokeswoman said.
She said the bank was satisfied with the positive effects of its sports sponsorship in the past two years but said there were other demands on its sponsorship money.
Sunny Hui Cheung-kwok, a tenpin bowling gold medallist in Bangkok, said athletes' morale would inevitably be affected if cash awards were cut.
'The commercial sponsorship is very important to the athletes who are supported by cash awards. Just look at the Americans - they have so many brilliant athletes because they have many sponsors,' he said. 'If the sponsorship continues to shrink in the future, sports development will definitely go backwards.'
Hui used his $500,000 to start a bowling products business, which he said could in turn support his full-time involvement in the sport.
Commercial sponsors for the Bangkok Games also included Standard Chartered Bank, AIA Foundation and Caltex. A total of $5.15 million went to Hong Kong medallists, who took five golds, six silvers and six bronzes.
Standard Chartered said it was still considering the proposal but admitted the downturn had resulted in more stringent scrutiny of sponsorship.
But both AIA and Caltex said they had not received any proposals from the board.
A source close to the board said it would be difficult for it to secure enough sponsorship in the economic downturn.
He said that large corporations would not give millions of dollars in donations for their brand name to appear a few times in newspapers or at ceremonies. Instead, they wanted to see their money go a long way.
A board spokesman said they were still optimistic about securing sponsorship, but added: 'There is no guarantee of commercial sponsorship. If there is none, there are still rewards offered by the board. We believe it should not affect the morale of the athletes.'