Rethink on sport and recreation required

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 August, 2008, 12:00am

Sport and leisure activities are essential for the well-being of a community. They are certainly necessary in Hong Kong, where pressure-cooker lifestyles can harm the health of our bodies and minds. Authorities have long recognised the risks and provided a range of facilities to meet needs and encourage participation. The community's requirements are clearly not being met, though; getting onto a court or booking grounds is often difficult and, at times, impossible.

Why this is so is unclear. It may be because of a lack of facilities or a flawed booking system. Perhaps the government has miscalculated demand for popular sports like badminton, basketball and tennis. Whatever the reason, the problem has been made plain by the emergence of private syndicates.

The government's Leisure Link on-line booking system eliminated the need to queue at Leisure and Cultural Services Department offices to make bookings. But while there is no longer a need to make the trip, the method does little to make it easier to get desired facilities at required times. Just as with queuing, Leisure Link is on a first-come, first-served basis: which means that when it becomes operative at 7am each day, popular time-slots are instantly taken and the remainder on offer is snapped up soon after.

Demand has been boosted by fees being waived until September 30 on a range of facilities. This was a good move to promote recreational activities during the Olympic Games. But a stroll past empty tennis courts at prime times reveals how poorly executed the idea seems to have been; people have less compulsion to turn up after booking if cash is not involved.

This has created a niche market which is being exploited by private syndicates. For a fee, they give guarantee that a desired facility and time-slot can be booked. Despite government fees having been waived, some people are taking up the offer because it is so difficult to beat the rush.

It is not far-fetched to suppose that such assurances are possible through people associated with the firms flooding Leisure Link at 7am and booking what is on offer for resale.

Authorities contend there is nothing illegal about such activities. Whatever they think, though, there is clearly something amiss with our access to facilities. The booking system needs to be overhauled and a review of recreational needs made.

The government has made quality of life improvement a priority. A five-day working week and shorter office hours are being encouraged. Changing lifestyle patterns have brought an alarming rise in the incidence of obesity. Focusing on leisure and recreation is the obvious way forward. Devoting more resources - land and financial - for sporting facilities fits neatly with the stated ideals.

An upsurge in interest in sports resulting from the Olympics should give impetus to the government's aim. Gauging needs, then providing the facilities to meet them will take time. More immediately, though, a rethink of the booking system is needed. Perhaps this will involve shortening pre-bookings from the present one month to a week or less, as is the practice elsewhere. Maybe a percentage of courts could be devoted to spot use. School halls could certainly be turned over to public recreation out of hours.

Sport is good for the community. It bonds people and provides physical fitness and well-being. Through it, we can build a healthy society. The government needs to review the facilities that have been provided and where necessary, make improvements - or build more.