Club co-operation vital for sake of our health

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 May, 2011, 12:00am

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Appearances can be deceptive. Hong Kong's crowded, pocket-sized parks and heavily-booked sporting facilities give the impression that recreational space is in short supply. It is anything but. Within the grounds of our city's elite private clubs are any number of much-underused fields, pitches, courts, greens and alleys.

The high walls and fences around the clubs send a message that non-members are not welcome. Luxury vehicles parked on the grounds and the obviously well-to-do people who come and go give an air of exclusiveness. Members who pay high fees, sometimes in the millions of dollars, to use the well-maintained facilities expect it to be that way. Few are aware of a clause in land leases requiring operators to allow outside groups to use their amenities for recreational activities for a certain number of hours a week.

Authorities had the provision included precisely because of the lack of public recreational facilities. It is a pay-off for the negligible or token amounts the clubs pay for the leases. Those generous terms are a throwback to colonial days when privilege and wealth went hand-in-hand. Unsurprisingly, the clubs tend to be protective of what they have, so the clause is little known - and rarely, if ever, promoted or advertised.

A community-spirited attitude in which facilities in short supply are shared would be of considerable benefit to our city. Hong Kong has a pressure-cooker environment in which long hours of study and work create an unhealthy lifestyle. Fitness through sport, especially for our children, should be a priority. It is difficult to satisfy with so few public venues and such high demand to use them.

The gap between the haves and have-nots in our society is ever-widening. As hard as it may be for their members to swallow, clubs that have land leases for a nominal fee should naturally be sharing their sporting and recreational facilities with those most in need. Tight resources require being responsible.

This newspaper highlighted the matter in an article almost a year ago. The government has to be applauded for taking it up; a proposal to strengthen the rule will be put by the Home Affairs Bureau to a Legislative Council panel today. It suggests that schools, sports associations and welfare groups should be able to apply to use the facilities of the clubs for all-day training and competitions at weekends and on public holidays, in addition to the presently prescribed three, three-hour sessions on weekdays. National sports associations could also use the facilities for a minimum of 10 hours a month, on top of the current 40 hours' monthly access.

Among the 51 organisations operating 73 premises noted by the bureau are some of the most exclusive clubs. They include the Hong Kong Country Club, the Hong Kong Golf Club and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. How schools and welfare groups would go about making use of their facilities is not readily apparent. For inspiration, though, is the example of the land within the Hong Kong Jockey Club's racecourse at Happy Valley: a jogging track and fitness equipment that are available on all days apart from those for racing have been provided for public use.

Changing ways will not be easy, but must be done. For the sake of Hong Kong's health, the government has to give every opportunity for the wider embracing of fitness and sport. Ensuring clubs make their underused facilities available, promoting that fact and informing about what can be used, and when, are sensible steps. Clubs, no matter how wealthy their members, have to co-operate.