Cleaner harbour raises hopes for swim
Alvin Sallay and John Carney
In his teens, Ronnie Wong Man-chiu took part in the annual cross-harbour swimming race and won it for three consecutive years. But then the water got so dirty that the famous race was stopped in 1978.
Now Wong, secretary of the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association, is bidding to revive the event and has targeted next year as the date to dive back into the harbour as it coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong.
'We are very hopeful we will get the approval from all the government departments concerned to restart this great event which will be popular not only with the locals but also with swimmers from overseas,' Wong (pictured above) said.
The Environmental Protection Department (EPD), which has started the process of cleaning the harbour, had originally told the swimming association that the water would be clean by 2013.
But Wong is hopeful that recent studies which have shown the water in the east of the harbour was clean would clear the way for permission to stage the race next October.
'We have been talking to the EPD and trying to apply for a permit to swim across the harbour for the past five or six years and they have always said the water was not good,' Wong said.
'But now they say it is getting better, especially in the east of the harbour, and have asked us to present them with a plan which will have to involve a route, a date for the race as well as getting an independent study from the medical sector as to what impact swallowing water will have on a swimmer.'
The EPD confirmed that many parties had expressed an interest in holding the cross-harbour swimming event. They warned that based on the water quality monitoring results obtained last year, the E coli levels in the harbour near Central and Wan Chai remain relatively high.
However, this did not necessarily mean that the event could not take place.
'All parties interested in holding the cross-harbour swimming event will need to consider factors such as the nature of the competition or event, the health and fitness of the participants, the location and alignment of the swim course, the time required to complete the event, the seasonal and spatial variations of water quality in Victoria Harbour, and other related marine traffic and safety issues,' an EPD spokesman said.
According to Wong, other key departments have backed the move to bring the race forward from 2013 when the treatment and cleaning of the harbour is expected to finish.
'The Marine Department, the police and the LCSD [Leisure and Cultural Services Department] all support us. I think it is very feasible. I'm pretty confident we will get the green light after having also spoken to the EPD and reading the latest figures for the water quality in the harbour,' Wong said.
With the eastern side of the harbour already cleaner, the swimming association has targeted a start at Hung Hom and finish at North Point - a far cry from the 1960s when the race began near the old Kowloon station on the pier used by the post office (where the clock tower is presently) and ended at Queen's Pier.
'It was a distance of 1,650 yards or 1.5 kilometres. I won the race in 1968, 1969 and 1970,' Wong recalled. 'But if we revive the race, it will be over a longer distance, at least three kilometres.
'It will be a huge draw, and will be a big tourist attraction. This will also encourage more people to take up swimming.'