Rugby bid 'hinges on faster work on arena'
Any delays in building the Kai Tak sports hub would scupper plans for Hong Kong to host a pool of the 2019 Rugby World Cup hosted by Japan, according to a top sports official.
'If the new stadium at Kai Tak comes on board only in 2019, it might potentially rule us out of hosting a few matches,' said Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory.
His warning follows indications the Kai Tak hub - a 50,000-seat state-of-the-art stadium, an indoor stadium and another ancillary outdoor stadium featuring an athletic track - might only be completed by 2019.
The top government official in charge of sport, Jonathan McKinley, said the date for the completion of the sports hub might now be 2019.
'Completing the sports hub hinges on a number of other factors, mainly having the transport infrastructure in place,' said McKinley, a deputy secretary at the Home Affairs Bureau.
'We have always been looking at 2018 or 2019 for completion of the entire complex based on the planning and implementation time required and the readiness of the complementary transport infrastructure, in particular the new railway line.'
However, Gregory said a 2019 completion date would jeopardise local rugby's bid to land its biggest coup - hosting a pool of the 2019 World Cup.
'We were under the impression the sports hub would be ready well before 2019.
'We need it to be completed at least by 2017, otherwise there is no way we can give a complete assurance to the authorities [the International Rugby Board and Rugby World Cup] that we can host a few games,' Gregory said.
The HKRFU stages the world-famous and highly successful Hong Kong Sevens at the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium and will also host the British Lions versus the Barbarians in 2013.
'It will be extremely difficult to host the World Cup using the current stadium. We had hoped we could use both stadiums [Kai Tak and Hong Kong Stadium] and try to get one pool played in Hong Kong.
'It would be a sad situation if eight years from now, we would only have the old stadium to rely on,' Gregory said.
Hong Kong's bid to be involved in the 2019 World Cup received a boost last week when the IRB gave permission for Cardiff to be used as a venue for the 2015 World Cup hosted by England.
'There is the precedence now and we can point to that when we make our case to the IRB,' Gregory said. The IRB had frowned on the practice of countries co-hosting future World Cups.
In 2009, the government unveiled a HK$100 billion plan to turn the former airport site into a modern district, which would include a sports hub. Among the project's major components were a new cruise terminal to be ready in 2013, and a sports hub to be completed by 2021.
This created a huge uproar in the sports community with officials castigating the government for putting sport at the bottom on its priority list. This led to a revised schedule.
'It has been 14 years since Kai Tak airport closed and we knew perhaps five or six years before that, that it would happen. So for 20 years the government has been dragging its feet and they still tell us it might take more time,' Gregory said.
'Hong Kong is a place where if the government is committed and if the money is there, things can get done overnight. They are building the cruise terminal now, so don't tell me the MTR won't be in place when this is ready.'
The year the old Government Stadium was reconstructed as Hong Kong Stadium
- The old stadium could seat 28,000