Websites muscle in on sports bookings
Dennis Chong and Jacqueline Leung
Syndicates charge fee for making reservations on the overloaded official online system
Syndicates are charging service fees of up to HK$300 to book government sports fields by promising to get rid of the 'hassles' of using the overloaded official online booking system.
Operators of one website will book a tennis court for HK$100 and a basketball court for HK$300, a South China Morning Post investigation has found.
Other opportunists, operating through internet chat rooms, offer to book facilities such as badminton courts for up to HK$45.
The practices have brought calls from a legislator for the government to make its Leisure Link booking system more user-friendly so people do not have to use such services.
Demands on the government service have increased since the Leisure and Cultural Services Department introduced its free admission scheme from July 1 to September 30 for a range of facilities including badminton, volleyball, squash, table tennis and water sports, but not football fields.
On its front page the website foo. com.hk promises: 'No hassles. Get rid of the queues.'
To use the service, people have to give their Leisure Link account and password to the website operator, who will log into the official website using the users' identity.
The government said that as long as the users voluntarily paid for the booking service, the operation did not break any law.
The Post was able to make a reservation through the website for an Aberdeen football pitch, which has been in high demand, for a date in September after paying HK$200 on top of the HK$336 fee for the pitch into an account provided by the website.
An operator, giving her name only as Kwong, boasted that the website guaranteed a high success rate because 'we have more people'.
The website claims that it can guarantee an 80 to 90 per cent success rate in securing a preferred spot for the facilities as early as the 30th day from the date of the request.
Ms Kwong did not explain how her team could achieve such a success rate by logging into the government website like everyone else.
Leisure Link's service opens at 7am each day to take bookings a month in advance and users complain that unless they are among the first to log in it is almost impossible to get their preferred slot.
They say it has grown more difficult since the fee waiver scheme began because users can book then not show up without fear of a penalty. Popular timeslots, such as the evenings, are immediately filled minutes after they are opened to bookings.
A sports fan giving her name as Miss Wong said she had made several attempts to book a reservation online but had failed even though she had logged on early in the day.
'It has got so that you cannot book any courts on the internet.'
A man at the Sai Wan Ho Sports Centre said groups providing online booking services were partly to blame.
'They will take up as many time slots as possible, then leave the venue once they have collected money from their customers,' he said.
Another man who plays regularly at the sports centre said it was harder to reserve places for badminton courts.
'Places are taken immediately once the booking system starts at 7am,' he said.
Legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan, vice-chairman of the home affairs panel, said the government was obliged to make the booking system more user-friendly.
'The system should be designed so that citizens do not have to rely on such service,' he said.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said it was not against the law to provide such booking services because anyone using the Leisure Link system had access on an equal basis. But a spokeswoman warned that people took a risk by deciding to give out personal information to people who provide booking services.