Sports billions on track despite Asia Games hiccup
The government is forging ahead with a programme to spend HK$31.5 billion on sports facilities, despite the Legislative Council's refusal to support a bid for the 2023 Asian Games.
While the authorities had indicated that they would invest the money regardless of the bidding outcome, many thought this would be scaled down after Legco in January rejected, by an overwhelming majority, a motion to bid for the Games.
Instead, the government has embarked on its biggest investment to build and expand public sports facilities since Hong Kong's rapid urbanisation in the 1970s and 1980s.
Jonathan McKinley, Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs, the department that oversees sports funding, said that nearly HK$12 billion had so far been approved and that a further HK$20 billion was needed for future projects, including the Kai Tak sports hub - estimated to cost HK$17 billion.
'The HK$12 billion currently being spent on sports facilities shows we are walking the talk,' he said in response to questions from the South China Morning Post. 'Regardless of whether Legco gives us the go-ahead to bid for the Asian Games, we aim to have a range of venues that will meet the needs of a number of users, including sports associations.'
There was an uproar in September when officials initially estimated the direct operating cost of hosting the Games at HK$14.5 billion, on top of HK$30 billion in indirect costs for new sports facilities. The forecast for operating costs was later slashed to HK$6 billion.
'Perhaps all the negative publicity about the Asian Games came about because the people didn't know what the government was doing. I think, sadly, it was a case of miscommunication,' said Pang Chung, secretary general of Hong Kong's Olympic Committee. 'The government was committed to building these facilities anyway. In this light, it is a shame we did not bid for the Asian Games.'
While a large number of the 17 sports facilities currently being built at a cost of HK$10 billion will mainly cater for recreational use - the Siu Sai Wan complex and Tung Chung swimming pool have already been completed, each at a cost of more than HK$400 million - some could also double up and host major international competitions.
The biggest of these will be the Victoria Park swimming pool complex, which includes an Olympic-size pool, and will cost HK$1.197 billion, and the indoor cycling velodrome-cum-sports centre in Tseung Kwan O, costing HK$1.129 billion.
Liberal Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee, one of the biggest critics of the Asian Games bid, said they opposed it not because of the money that was going to be spent on facilities but because the government could not come up with a convincing answer about the event's impact on Hong Kong's economy.
'It was because we thought Hong Kong was not ready,' she said.
Additional reporting by John Carney
The number of times the Asian Games have been held, including Guangzhou last year
- The Games will be next held in 2014