Red card for tactics on football promotion
The development of local football sparked a heated debate at the Legco home affairs panel meeting yesterday as lawmakers, many of them football fans, criticised the government's lack of strategies to promote the sport.
Recent allegations of match-fixing in a First Division match between Tuen Mun Progoal and Happy Valley also raised concerns, they said.
Industrial constituency legislator Lam Tai-fai, a patron of the Shatin Football Team, said it was worrying that the international ranking of the Hong Kong team had dropped drastically and gate receipts from local matches were a low HK$3.7 million every year.
The Hong Kong team was 90th in the Fifa World Rankings in February 1996. It slipped to its lowest ranking of 156 last November, according to the international football association.
Democrats lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong, a football fan, said the government's HK$4.4 million funding to train 48,000 youths was far too little. He also called for more resources for the development of district football teams, which had helped to foster community spirit.
The 18 teams, representing Hong Kong's 18 district councils, were formed in 2002 with support from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. They compete in the local leagues and each team receives up to HK$100,000 in funding a year.
Noting that Hong Kong stages far fewer friendly matches when compared to the rest of the region, Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan urged the government to take the lead to promote the game, instead of leaving the job to the Football Association.
Many legislators also raised concerns over the lack of football pitches for training and matches.
Jonathan McKinley, deputy secretary for home affairs, said he understood the community's concern over the development of local football, being a fan who has been playing football for more than 25 years.
Consultants hired to review the sport's development are expected to suggest ways to develop the game by early next year, he said.
Mr Cheung said that some measures, such as increasing funding for youth football training and the development of district teams, could be done immediately, without having to wait for the consultancy study to be completed. Mr McKinley agreed, saying he too recognised the importance of having good facilities for training.
Tourism legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun urged the government to be clear in its policy direction for local football development. 'Are we looking into promoting football just to encourage people to do more sports and get fit? Or do we want a quality national squad to shine on the international stage?' Mr Tse said.
The government said a football academy had been planned in Tseung Kwan O, and the Jockey Club approved the funding for it in 2005. But its opening date has not been set because the Football Association and the Jockey Club have not yet agreed on how the academy should be run.