HKFA to groom under-23 side
A team of promising under-23 players are to play in the Hong Kong First Division this season with the aim of grooming them to be the backbone of Hong Kong's 2008 Olympic side.
The decision was made last night at a meeting of First Division clubs.
The move will not only provide more exposure for the juniors as they prepare for the Olympic qualifying tournaments scheduled to start in 2006, but also ease Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) worries about having insufficient teams for the coming season.
With the recent withdrawal of Sunray Cave from the league, it was feared that there would only be seven teams to compete in the new season, but it is now guaranteed that there will be at least eight.
The backbone of the new team will be formed by players from relegated side Xiangxue Pharmaceutical because many of them have yet to land a new club, while other clubs have also agreed to release the players they have signed up from the now-defunct team.
This includes Kwok Kin-pong of South China, Lee Hang-wui of Citizen, Kwok Wing-lok and Cheng Lai-heng of Kitchee and Happy Valley's Leung Kam-fai.
It is estimated that a budget of around $1 million is required to support the team and the HKFA is still looking for financial backing.
Financial details are yet to be sorted out, and FA chairman Martin Hong Po-kui was not prepared to discuss details, but he said he felt this was the right move.
'I am happy to see eight teams when the league kicks off in September,' said Hong.
'Setting up the Olympic team will provide many young players with the opportunities to play in the league as well as enhance our hopes for the Olympic Games qualifying tournament.'
It is understood that should the Football Association fail to find a financier, the chairman will personally foot the bill for the new team.
Apart from the Olympic qualifying tournament, the team will also represent Hong Kong in the East Asian Games in Macau.
Meanwhile, all First Division clubs have agreed to pay labour insurance for their players.
Three clubs - Rangers, Kitchee and champions Sun Hei - were found guilty of failing to pay the insurance last season and fined.
The Football Association has reached an agreement with an agent to charge the clubs about 10 per cent of the players' salaries for the insurance fee.