Mountain bikers have been given a raw deal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2011, 12:00am

Mountain biking by definition is about overcoming obstacles. Hong Kong's best bikers are quite good at it, with one having won the city's first Asian Games gold medal for this event - now also in the Olympics. This has raised their hopes of sharing government funding for cycling as one of Hong Kong's 15 sports accorded elite status.

All this is of little avail, however, in steering a safe course through bureaucratic obstacles. Mountain biking comes under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which has no mountain biking trails. This should not be an insurmountable obstacle, because Hong Kong is well served with trails by its network of country parks. These, however, come under the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), which has no objection to mountain biking so long as it does not cause a nuisance to other users of country parks.

Unfortunately, this department has all but declared mountain bikers a public nuisance and greatly limits their use of trails in the parks. The bikers say it is even trying to ban them from the Olympic Trail from south to north Lantau they have used for 30 years, and which the government adorned with bike designs to celebrate the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. As a result, Asian Games gold medallist Chan Chun-hing has gone to Yunnan on the mainland to train for selection for next year's London Olympic Games. None of this would surprise readers familiar with the frustrations that arise from the lack of a clear-cut policy or of communication between departments. Environmental protection is one example, including in country parks.

If Hong Kong health enthusiasts and sport-lovers share an abiding lament, it is a dearth of good facilities and world-class venues. If there is one sport that should be an exception, given our treasured heritage of country parks and their trails, it should be mountain biking. The AFCD is responsible for maintaining country parks for the enjoyment of all the people, but that does not prevent the government striking a sensible balance between the needs of different users.