Business sponsorship the answer for sport
Being an athlete requires hard work, courage and dedication. Measured in terms of lost earnings, the sacrifices they have to make to qualify to compete in international competitions are considerable. So it is not difficult to appreciate their frustrations that, having trained so hard, they are also expected to contribute to the costs of competing overseas.
Such is the predicament facing swimmer Sherry Tsai Hiu-wai, who is being asked to fork out HK$5,000 if she wants to represent Hong Kong to compete at the World Swimming Championships in Rome.
As the Sunday Morning Post reported yesterday, the funding problem she faces is not unique; many other athletes have told of their struggles to get adequate funding to compete abroad.
Currently, the government stumps up 85 per cent of the costs for overseas participation in competitions by our sports elite. Sporting associations, sponsors and fund-raising drives are expected to provide the remainder, but often with little success. The lack of support means that many athletes leave their sport at the international competition level earlier than they should do. They find a discouraging environment that adds to the challenges they already face. This is not being helped by the decrease in private funding available because of the economic downturn.
Athletes have a legitimate complaint. But the government should not necessarily be the target of criticism. While it would not cost the government a great deal more if it underwrote the full costs of these trips, a strong argument can be made for the community to make a small contribution to fund the efforts of our athletes. It would be a means of galvanising public support for sport as well as motivating the sporting bodies and athletes concerned.
All over the world, athletics sponsorship is big business. That it has not become so in Hong Kong says a lot about the state of sport here. In the interim, perhaps the government could chip in a bit more. But far more important is to encourage our businesses to exploit the potential of sports sponsorship.