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Not in Hong Kong's best interests to host the Asian Games

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 August, 2010, 12:00am

Hong Kong needs an Asian Games, just like Beijing needed the Olympics. Sports is a great way of pulling everyone together. Even our masters in Beijing believe this and let's hope the people say yes.

Alvin Sallay column

Sunday Morning Post, August 1

Here is a 'No' vote to start things off. Sorry, Alvin, but I disagree with you on this one. I take the view that hosting the Asian Games is against Hong Kong's best interests.

Mind you, I agree that sport is a great way of pulling people together. The only trouble is that we are not talking here of sport. We are talking of television, of couch potatoes and barflies doing little more than exercising their eye muscles to watch the screen or reaching for another drink. Only a very few people are actually engaged in sport in the Asian Games.

What I have in mind for pulling people together through sport is how we used to play football on an unused lot near my home when I was a kid, or played softball for the school or company team.

It was not only an excellent way of learning teamwork but I got to know my teammates well, got to know our opponents, too, and came to respect them all. Nothing reveals quite as much to you about other people as having to work with them or against them for something. Sport is superb for that. It indeed pulls people together.

But will someone now please tell me how this is achieved in watching strangers contend on television? Goes well with beer, I'll grant you, can even be done with a glass of wine, pass the chips, but I would hesitate to call this sport.

It also does more to push apart than pull together. What I mostly see is overdone patriotism of the worst kind, people taking delight in the superior performances of their athletes over the athletes of other countries. It's always at the expense of others. This is not like national achievements in architecture, science or music. The closest comparison is war.

I'm also far from certain that encouraging people to work off such feelings in sport stops them from doing so in war. The reverse may very well be true. These false sentiments actually tend to grow more virulent when indulged.

Nor do they really help put any country or city on the map, so to speak. Athens these days is not esteemed as the city that hosted the 2004 Olympic Games. It is rather derided as the capital of a country that has come close to bankrupting itself and threatening the unity of the European Union.

Note, by the way, that one reason this happened is that Greece pulled out all the stops to host a 'successful' Olympic Games and then found its treasury bare. Staging big international sporting events can sometimes do more to tarnish a country's name than to polish it.

But even where the polishing efforts succeed, they do so only for a matter of weeks. Is Atlanta really a city you extol because it held the 1996 Olympics? Is Barcelona on your 'must-see' list because of the 1992 Olympics?

And then there is the cost - billions, as my colleague readily concedes - for hosting the Asian Games, as we do not yet have the required facilities. I can only hope that one of those ridiculous single-use velodromes is not among these facilities.

But the revenue side I find more interesting, because it's always so murky in these big sporting events. Who gets the cash from the television rights and in what proportion?

Let's not just see a proposal to hold these games. Let's see a budget for them, with detailed incomings as well as outgoings. If we don't pay attention to this from the very start, we will find that we bear the capital cost of all the facilities while someone else walks away with the proceeds. The sports world is prone to this sort of diversion of funds.

And, if it happens, let's not have any talk about the great uses to which we can put the facilities. There are no such great uses. These things are purpose-built for specific big events alone. The Bird's Nest and the Water Cube in Beijing, for instance, have become bywords for waste in just two short years.

Which brings me to the biggest losers of all - the kids, Hong Kong's youth. Increasingly, they no longer know the joy of an informal game of football on an open lot.

We could still have many such places, even in this crowded city, but, no, the money is to go into stadiums, not neighbourhood playing fields. Can't host an Asian Games on a neighbourhood lot.

And then we complain about how kids are getting fatter and fatter these days and just can't seem to get together any longer to kick a ball around. What a tragedy.

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