Better ways to develop sport than hosting Games

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 October, 2010, 12:00am

The writing is on the wall. After Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing set the ball rolling on public consultation to see whether Hong Kong should make a bid to host the 2023 Asian Games, public feelings are nearly unanimously negative.

Even the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong has joined the opposition and declared that it would not support funding for the quadrennial event.

Given the latest stand by the DAB, there is no need for Tsang to try to put on a brave face by saying that the government wants to hear more views and will extend the consultation period from six to 10 weeks. Even if the government went ahead with the bid, it would not be able to win support from the public or any political party.

Judging by the poor quality of the consultation document, it's obvious that the government is not genuinely interested in hosting the event. It is merely going through the motions, trying to please legislator Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, a member of the International Olympic Committee and the son of the late Henry Fok Ying-tung. The older Fok was an influential pro-China figure during the colonial era and thus the consultation is meant to give face to the Fok family.

According to the document, the total costs will be around HK$44.5 billion, but HK$30 billion will be indirect costs, originally budgeted by the government to cover the construction of future sports facilities and venues. The direct costs to host the games are estimated at around HK$14.5 billion.

It would be simple and naive for anyone to believe these budget estimates. Even if we didn't pencil in the inflation factor, common sense tells us that 13 years is a long time and it will be unrealistic to rely on any budgetary estimate. To stage such a sizeable international sports event, the insurance premium and security cost alone would be enormous.

For example, the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver in February ran up a security bill of US$720 million. So if it wasn't an oversight that the consultation document failed to include any security cost, it might have been that Tsang was misinformed by his staff. And if it was a deliberate act, that means the government is not keen on the bid.

If we want to stimulate greater public interest and participation in sport and reinforce social cohesion, staging expensive sports events is not the most effective way. Furthermore, they will not bring a lot of economic benefits to Hong Kong. The best way to promote sports is through education to build motivation and long-term interest. Many local schools, such as the Kowloon Wah Yan College and Diocesan Boys' School, have been quite ambitious in building up a prominent sports profile. They have well-equipped sports facilities and a diverse and sustainable learning environment for students to flourish and develop according to their talents and interests.

If the government really wants to facilitate the development of sport in Hong Kong, the best starting point should be to allocate more resources for schools, build more accessible sports facilities, make optimal use of existing ones and promote community support.

In reality, our chances of winning the bid are not great, especially after Guangzhou's hosting of the Asian Games next month. It is highly unlikely that another Chinese city would be granted the right such a short time later.

Let's face it, hosting the games is not a good way to boost our sports development and will not bring real economic benefits. It could also create opportunities for corruption. So, to really give sport a sporting chance to flourish, our government must forget about the bid.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.