Alvin Sallay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 May, 2009, 12:00am

A bouquet to the Hong Kong Cricket Association for going ahead with the Sixes. Despite losing HK$1.8 million last year, the HKCA has stood firm, and this week's announcement that the popular tournament would go ahead on October 31-November 1 should be applauded.

It would have been so easy for the organisers to cancel this year. The lack of a title sponsor, the uncertainty of these hard financial times and the losses from last year all added up to the safe choice of putting the Sixes on hold.

Instead, the HKCA has taken up the challenge in the very best spirit of the game. It has refused to be intimidated by the bouncers of the downturn, or the mystery of trying to figure out how to attract a new title sponsor.

But unlike last year, there is one fundamental difference. While giving the green light, the HKCA executive has also added the proviso that 'the tournament cannot be run at a loss'.

If last year was bad, things are even more difficult this time. The recession has taken a stranglehold. So how will the HKCA run the Sixes without making a loss?

According to the association's money-man, Dinesh Tandon, it is by keeping a tight ship and sticking to the budget - the income that will be generated by the tournament.

This is estimated at HK$6.5 million and comes from ticket sales, corporate boxes and the money from the government's M-Mark scheme to support major sporting events, which this year will amount to HK$2 million.

'Our level of expenditure will be based on the revenue we can generate,' Tandon said. 'The worst thing that can happen is we break even. The tournament cannot run at a loss.'

Hong Kong cricket cannot afford another multi-million-dollar loss. It doesn't have that kind of money to lose for a second successive year. But still things are not as gloomy as they seem. With HK$6.5 million to play around with, they are confident of putting on a good show, even though there will be a few budgetary cuts and the tournament could be trimmed of its drawcard - the All-Stars team. A decision on the latter will be taken at a later date. Hopefully, there won't be a need for that if a title sponsor is unearthed soon.

'If we get a title sponsor, it will completely change the picture,' says Tandon.

The All-Stars do not come cheap. The Adam Gilchrists and Justin Langers - two names already bandied around as possibilities this year - come at a price.

Perhaps instead of focusing on big-name players to raise the event's profile, the HKCA should look elsewhere. Like Afghanistan.

At the moment, Afghanistan are one of the hottest properties in international cricket. They captured the imagination of the world media with their heroic ascent from the bottom of world cricket - ICC's division five - to the top tier. Last month they figured in the World Cup qualifiers in South Africa and nearly won a berth in the 2011 World Cup.

It would be a huge plus for the Sixes if Afghanistan were invited. They will bring an exciting element to the tournament, and their mere presence is bound to tickle the interest of the world media.

The image of the Sixes overseas is doubly important this time, especially with the HKCA eyeing the Hong Kong Tourism Board as an additional source for funds. The government's recent move to set up a HK$100 million Mega Fund for the promotion of arts and sports events which can draw in tourists (an unrealistic figure of 10,000 was set and which we dissected in an earlier column) has not been missed by the cricketing establishment.

The HKCA has already made overtures to the Tourism Commission which will operate the fund. While the Sixes cannot pull in huge crowds due to the restrictive size of Kowloon Cricket Club, the government should view the request for funds sympathetically.

The Sixes is after all one of the signature sporting events in Hong Kong. Like its famous cousin, the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, it is well-known around the world.

Every time I go back home to Sri Lanka, the topic of conversation among my friends will always touch on the Sixes. Television coverage has given the tournament a broad appeal. Last year, the event was beamed into 80 million homes worldwide, including live and full coverage in India, Australia and South Africa. In 2007, when the tournament first included the All-Stars, apart from the cricket, the television coverage also showcased Hong Kong's many delights, culinary and the like. This must be done again this year. The Tourism Commission must be shown the Sixes video from 2007 so it can see what a great vehicle the event is for selling Hong Kong overseas.

India, for instance, is a growing market. A newly affluent middle class, all of whom are crazy about cricket, has watched the Sixes on the telly. When pa decides where to take the family for a holiday, who knows, he might settle for Hong Kong. Of the 80 million households which watched the Sixes last year, most of them were from India. If a tiny per cent were to come to Hong Kong, the Sixes would have done its job. This is the message the HKCA should be telling the Tourism Board.

The government should look at the Sixes as an event which is worthy of financial backing. The tournament is going ahead in these tough times despite many obstacles. And all the help they can get would be most welcome ... and deserved.