Alvin Sallay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 2008, 12:00am

A bridge too far, two dirty drains and a futuristic building in Shanghai stood in the way of funding plans for the new Sports Institute (SI) being approved by our legislative councillors this week.

We had never stepped into Legco until last Wednesday. Being at a loose end, interest was piqued on hearing the public works subcommittee was to meet to approve a HK$1.7 billion plan to upgrade the Sports Institute in Sha Tin.

A fan of Churchillian riposte and banter like 'A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on', we walked in hoping we would be treated to a similar discourse from our politicians as they debated the pros and cons of the hefty redevelopment plans for a new home for elite athletes.

We left disappointed. Not only was the cut and thrust of the dialogue singularly unappetising - perhaps it was lost in translation - but the Sports Institute item on the agenda never even saw the light of day, thanks to the bridge, two drains and a building in Shanghai taking up the allotted time.

The bridge - a 29.6km causeway linking Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau some day in the future - was the biggest impediment.

Our legislators asked probing questions of government officials who were on hand to expound on the benefits of building a three-lane carriageway in the form of a bridge-cum-tunnel across the Pearl River Estuary.

We slipped between day-dreaming and slumber. It was mind-numbingly boring. They didn't get to the heart of the matter, which is why should the Hong Kong government make up for 50 per cent of any funding shortfall - the estimated cost of the bridge is HK$31 billion - when it will only serve to drain away more tourists and punters to Macau.

Instead our legislators went on and on about such mundane issues as toll charges and who will have the biggest say - Hong Kong, Macau or China.

At the end of this talkathon on a bridge which is only expected to be completed in 2016, attention turned to the 'decking of two nullahs'. Apparently these are urban eyesores and pose health risks to people in Sai Kung and Wong Chuk Hang.

The greening of this project, we heard, will cost the government HK$96 million and will generate 5,630 tonnes of construction waste. It will take until 2013 to complete.

The other item for which funds needed to be approved was the building of a 'standalone' Hong Kong pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. The money needed was HK$145 million. Like in the previous two items, a lot of hot air was vented before members gave their assent.

By now time had run out for the most pressing issue this subcommittee of Legco's finance committee needed to address. And much to the dismay of waiting Sports Institute officials, it was decided to postpone the item on approving funds for the refurbishment of the institute for another day.

Institute chief executive Trisha Leahy remains hopeful the delay will be only a matter of a few days. 'The next public works subcommittee meeting on June 2 will take it up again. Pending their approval, the finance committee, then has to give the final level of approval, hopefully at its meeting on June 13,' said Leahy. 'Work is scheduled to commence in December 2008.'

Let's hope so, as you never know what other weighty issues Legco will have to talk about. As it is, enough time has been wasted. Everything must be in place so when the equestrian events end at the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer, the bulldozers can move in and work can start on building a new home for our elite athletes.

What the sports community will get for HK$1.7 billion is a nine-storey, multi-purpose building which will include a hostel for at least 370 athletes, offices, a restaurant, conference centre, and coaching, function and lecture rooms.

In addition there will be separate wushu, squash, tennis and volleyball facilities as well as a 12-lane tenpin bowling alley; an international-standard swimming pool with the existing 25-metre pool forming an integrated complex; a rowing boathouse; upgraded facilities for table tennis, fencing and badminton; sports science laboratories; sports medicine clinic; fitness training centre; upgraded running and cycling trails; and integrated facilities for disabled athletes.

Needless to say, what will be built will be state-of-the-art facilities.

Work will be completed in two phases, with the first to finish by the latter half of 2009, allowing the athletes to return to Sha Tin. Work on the second phase - the multi-purpose building - will start in the fourth quarter of 2009, with a scheduled finish for 2011.

With all this disruption, it is imperative all other facets be in place. The funding must be approved immediately. Let's hope this is the first item on the agenda in eight days and there is no call for our honourable members to waste their time on debating the merits of spending HK$1.7 billion for a new institute. No amount of money can make up for the sacrifice the athletes have already made - giving up their home so the Olympic equestrian events can take place in Hong Kong.

Not that they had a choice. But that is another story.