Players sidelined in a city without a sporting culture

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 December, 2009, 12:00am

A recent spate of bad publicity surrounding the city's first big international sports event has taken the spotlight from the players.

The Chinese-language press has in recent days reported on chaotic arrangements, including the unavailability of tickets at venues and a dearth of hotel rooms.

It seems sport itself has been overlooked, despite the message that the 2009 East Asian Games is supposed to enshrine - sportsmanship and the pursuit of sports excellence. But why?

This could not be because of a lack of government commitment. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department is spending HK$2.7 billion on sports and leisure this year. Added to this is HK$165 million from the public coffers for training elite athletes at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and billions invested to ensure the city has well-equipped sports venues.

The government is spending about HK$120 million on organising the Games, HK$400 million has been spent on a new stadium in Tseung Kwan O and nearly HK$1 billion has been spent upgrading venues to international standards. An extra HK$10.8 million was given to the Sports Institute to employ more coaches and provide overseas training sessions.

Former Olympic cyclist and sports commentator Hung Chung-yam has put the problem succinctly - the city lacks a sporting culture.

In a city where financial power reigns, an aspiring youngster is encouraged to choose a path that would rank him with the rich and the famous.

Sport is seen only as a healthy pastime. After all, how many Tiger Woods and Boris Beckers are there? How many Olympic medal winners own a yacht or villa?

This way of thinking filters down. Students receive only a couple of hours of physical education a week, though education department officials boast that they have made great progress in promoting sport in secondary schools by adding sports theory as a liberal study.

Though parents are willing to spend thousands of dollars on table tennis or swimming lessons, not many are that supportive when their children suggest training to be a full-time athlete. The reason is invariably that sports do not offer a stable and lucrative future.

Then there is the perception that sportsmen and sportswomen are those who did not fare well academically. For a community where academic qualifications are seen as the key to success, such a deep-seated stereotype is fatal to cultivating a sustained sporting culture.

But there are still optimists, such as Hung, who reflect that people are already more open and receptive compared with a decade or so ago.

Luck is the only way Sport Page 4

Sporting chance

Half of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's budget is being spent on sports and leisure this year

The amount, in HK dollars, is: $2.7b