Showpiece tournament seeks HK$5.5m bailout

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 September, 2009, 12:00am

Hong Kong's top international tournament, the Women's Champions Challenge, has gone cap in hand to the government after Indian diamond manufacturers, the JB Group, pulled out as title sponsors.

Organisers are now looking for a handout from the newly established Mega Events Fund, which is also considering a HK$10 million request to bring the Louis Vuitton World Series yachting regatta to Victoria Harbour in December next year.

'It is unfortunate, but like many other companies, JB Group has also been caught up in the financial tsunami,' tournament director Terry Catton said yesterday.

'They have given us permission to look for another title sponsor, but we have also applied for funding from the Mega Events Fund.'

The organiser of the popular tournament, the Hong Kong Tennis Patrons' Association, has asked for HK$5.5 million from the Mega Events Fund, which was set up this year to help promote the city as an events capital of Asia.

Although a special event, and not part of the official WTA circuit, the Women's Champions Challenge has brought the world's leading players to Hong Kong for the past decade. Next year's event will be the 11th in succession.

This year's event - changed to a team format - was won by Team America led by Venus Williams.

Stars who have featured before include Maria Sharapova, Steffi Graf, Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters.

JB Group came on board in 2008 as a last-minute replacement for Watsons Water, which pulled out late in 2007 after an eight-year relationship. JB Group signed on for three years, but the financial downturn has forced the company to cut short its role, leaving organisers scrambling to find a replacement for the January 6-10 event at Victoria Park.

'The tournament will go ahead whatever happens. I went to Wimbledon this summer and I have already recruited some of the top players,' Catton said.

With companies still unwilling to get back into sponsoring sporting events - the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes is another top event still looking for a backer - the Tennis Patrons' Association has decided its best bet is to ask the government for a bailout.

The Mega Events Fund has a HK$100 million kitty to help non-profit-making organisations host more attractive arts, cultural and sports events over the next three years. A total of 19 applications were received by the July 31 deadline. The other sporting body to apply for funds was the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. 'Our fingers are crossed,' Catton said. 'We have never received any backing from the government before and we are hopeful they will support us. This is a fantastic event and one which benefits Hong Kong a great deal.'

As the Tennis Patrons' Association is a private body, it has been unable to get support from the government's 'M' Mark scheme in the past. The scheme, which is the brainchild of the Major Sports Events Committee of the Sports Commission, backs only events that are sanctioned by the national sports associations. They can give a maximum of HK$6 million in funding over three years.

'We have never got a cent from the 'M' Mark, but we hope the Mega Events Fund will give us the money,' Catton added.

Catton has promised another star-studded field next year.

'We have a number of big names signed on,' he said.

Star attraction

Years that the event, featuring greats such as Steffi Graf and Venus Williams, has been staged: 10