Wasting billions on Asian Games won't give kids a place for sports

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 September, 2010, 12:00am

'... If the government is willing to spend HK$20 billion on fostering our cultural roots, wouldn't HK$10 billion be chump change to strengthen our health and physical well-being?'

Alvin Sallay,

SCMP sports columnist, September 26

He is absolutely right. If we can justify spending HK$20 billion on a delusion that culture can be acquired with third-rate foreign museum exhibits at a concrete bunker in West Kowloon, wouldn't it make even more sense to spend HK$10 billion on making ourselves healthier, fitter people?

I don't see how anyone can deny the logic of this assertion. It makes absolute, obvious sense. I'm wholeheartedly with Alvin on this.

There is one slight difficulty, however, and, no, I am not referring to the fact that we cannot actually justify spending HK$20 billion on that West Kowloon fantasy. Only bureaucrats could fall prey to the silly notion that cultural sophistication is acquired by pouring concrete.

The difficulty is the blithe assumption that hosting the 2023 Asian Games will somehow make us healthier, fitter people.

Of course, it is also the assumption that these games will only cost us HK$10 billion (HK$14.5 billion actually, according to the consultation document) when the real cost is likely to be nearer HK$50 billion with inclusion of expensive capital projects that government sleight of hand transferred elsewhere on its books.

But we won't trouble ourselves with a mere HK$40 billion variance when HK$68 billion railway projects can be approved without any studies whatsoever and when the consultation document itself reminds us in its opening paragraph that civic pride cannot 'be described in words nor quantified in dollar terms'.

Move aside you cynics who say that these same people will shortly quantify their demands in very precise dollar terms and, at that time, scorn payment in their own coin of civic pride.

Go away, all of you, because even HK$50 billion would actually be chump change for making us healthier and fitter people. We could easily save that much in lower medical bills and public health costs.

But will hosting the Asian Games really make us healthier and fitter?

No, of course they won't. They are more likely to have the opposite effect. What 99.9 per cent of us will do during these games is lie back on the sofa to watch them on TV with a soft drink or beer in one hand and a bowl of snacks at the other.

We will definitely exercise some muscles this way, for instance the ones that control the movement of the elbow in the transfer of snack from bowl to mouth and, from time to time, the muscles of the vocal chords when some favourite athlete crosses the finish line. What an effort.

And while the tiny number of athletes who actually contend in the games may be fitter, they are not likely to be healthier. Their obsession with gold will induce them to sacrifice their well-being to their muscle development, even if it has become more difficult these days to do it with drugs.

The real losers, however, will be our children. When I was a kid we used to be able to get up a game of football at school or on some neighbourhood spare lot without any effort. I don't see kids doing it these days any longer. Computer games, yes, but actually stretching themselves on the field to score a goal or stop one?

No, they don't do much of that any longer. One of the reasons that they don't is that their parents or their teachers would first have to book the field, find a coach, pay the injury insurance and the cost of uniforms, find another team to play and then arrange for the bus to take everyone to the field.

The alternative is no more. The neighbourhood fields are gone. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department has long pounced on them and turned them into government facilities.

This has all made neighbourhood football too much for the kids and they just don't do it any longer unless they are pushed. A few do, and the rest just play football on computer or watch it done on TV, as their parents do.

An Asian Games-style emphasis on top athletes makes this malaise worse. The facilities are never designed to encourage participation in sport. They are designed for spectators, for television and for achievement-mad muscle freaks who have long forgotten what sport really means.

Have you ever seen kids with their faces stuck against the wire fences of such places? They don't even know any longer what they're missing, but they sure miss it.

They've been robbed. That's what happens when we spend billions on promoting elite sports. We rob our own kids of day-to-day neighbourhood sport.

Sports legislator Timothy Fok Tsun-ting: in my opinion, you do Hong Kong's children a disservice.