Heads of State

Alvin Sallay

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 February, 2011, 12:00am

Carrots are a precious commodity now that we are in the Year of the Rabbit. And it seems there were plenty of them dangled in front of our soccer clubs this week. First, though, the clubs, who largely comprise the 53 members of the Hong Kong Football Association, must fall in line with the recommendations made by the change agent to revitalise the local game.

Moses might have come down from Mount Sinai with 10 Commandments from God to change the world, but it needs more to persuade the footballing heathen in Hong Kong - 33 recommendations were spelled out by the change agent, Scott Wilson, in its report succinctly titled 'Develop - Deliver'. But sifting through the mundane, what sticks out is that the people behind the 128-page report have made it clear that if the clubs follow, they will be led to the land of milk and honey.

This is the carrot promised by the government, which initiated the process and is now behind the unprecedented move for change within the House that Keeps Failing Again - HKFA.

One of the biggest bribes - sorry, carrots - offered to the top clubs is that if they fall in line, they will each get a home ground. This is a massive step forward. Only the government can make this real estate dream come true. To have your own ground, where you can play your home games and train without having to worry if the pitch will be booked by the public will be manna from heaven. It will take a huge burden off the shoulders of the clubs aspiring to become professional.

Right now, the Hong Kong First Division set-up is professional in name only. The clubs employ professional players, but they are not professionally run. The priority is to change this mindset by establishing a new Premier League by the 2012-13 season. The plan is to have 10 to 12 teams in the professional Premier League run according to guidelines laid down by the Asian Football Confederation where, apart from home grounds, clubs have their own top-class coaches (who, in Hong Kong's cases, will have to come from abroad), a certain level of fan attendance and a football academy nurturing young talent.

There are only a couple of clubs in the 10-team First Division who meet these guidelines, namely South China and Kitchee. So the target of turning the entire league into a modern, professional outfit will take some doing.

And it will need money. The government spends more than HK$200 million annually on the Sports Institute and its collection of elite sports. Spend half this amount on soccer - the world's most popular game - and we can expect Hong Kong to rise up the Fifa ladder, where we are currently languishing in 143rd place, between Singapore and Burundi.

Moving up the ladder is one of the goals outlined in 'Develop - Deliver', with the change agent believing Hong Kong have the talent to move into the world's top 80 at least.

But all these are dreams right now. For them to be realised, the first step will be for the clubs to agree to change the HKFA constitution and do away with decades of the association being run like a dictatorship.

Nine days ago the clubs agreed 'in principle' to make changes. The foundation of change is a new constitution. On April 11, the 53 members of the HKFA will meet to vote for change. It will be a landmark day for the sport in Hong Kong.

HKFA chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak was happy that the clubs had accepted 'Develop - Deliver' in principle and was confident that the reform process could now move forward.

Let's hope so, for there is many a slip between cup and lip, as Moses found out when he came down the mountain the first time to see his people worshipping a statuette of a golden calf.

Will the clubs be willing to get rid of the old baggage of 'you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours' and instead have in place an independent chief executive officer telling them what to do? The sovereignty issue will not stop there, for the HKFA will also have a financial director, a technical director and a marketing director, all of whom won't be under the thumb of the clubs.

The nub of the issue which faces the 53 members is: Do they get rid of a system where they have the last word and bring in one where their influence isn't as much? If a 75 per cent majority says 'yes', then we can look forward to a new world.

But giving up power is hard. Just look at what's happening in the Arab world today. Okay, Hosni Mubarak has decided to quit office and put his feet up in an Egyptian seaside resort, but not without a struggle. Even though an octogenarian, Mubarak was loath to end his three-decade rule. Mubarak, and his family, had more money than they could spend in several lifetimes. It wasn't money, but power and a misplaced feeling that they were doing the country good, that kept him trying to hang on.

Power is the greatest narcotic man has known. But with time, even those effects fade away. Hopefully the time has come for the member clubs of the HKFA to realise that their grasp on the tiller hasn't helped the game at all.

A new beginning on April 11 will start with members approving a new constitution. Let's hope the vote count is 53-0 in favour of change. That will be the best way for the footballing community to show the government that they, too, want a new dawn.