Ombudsman to probe abuse of sports facilities
The Ombudsman is investigating the booking of the city's public sports facilities after a preliminary inquiry found many of the highly sought-after slots reserved for sports groups and non-governmental organisations went unused, with many others offered for resale.
The inquiry last year found 700 cases of block bookings in which groups neglected to cancel the booking in time and failed to turn up to use the venue. Despite repeat offenders making some of the reservations, they faced no penalty other than a warning.
Alan Lai Nin, the Ombudsman, said public funds subsidised about 80 per cent of the general costs of the public sports facilities, which were managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.
'It is of utmost importance to ensure that members of the public have a fair chance to use those facilities and that abuse and wastage are stopped as far as possible,' Lai said.
'If the administration is to promote 'sports for all' successfully it is essential that there should be a better mechanism for the booking and use of sports facilities by the general public.' He said his department had received more than 50 complaints about the booking system over the past two years.
The leisure department's booking policy, intended to foster sports development, gives priority to hundreds, if not thousands, of groups - such as national sports associations, community sports clubs, schools, government departments, charities and 'bona fide associations and corporations' - to book venues three to 12 months in advance.
The priority groups can take up to one-third of slots during peak hours and weekends and half the total number of facilities at each venue.
However, private individuals can book sessions only 30 days in advance. With demand keen for sports facilities, it is common for private persons making reservations to use the department's internet booking system as soon as it opens at 7am to allocate slots on a first come, first served basis.
Demand has also led to online touting and it is easy to find reserved sessions for soccer pitches, badminton and tennis courts being offered in discussions forums. For example, a 90-minute session on a soccer pitch rented out by the department for HK$336 was offered for HK$500.
A department spokesman said it would work closely with the Ombudsman in the investigation.
Louie Lobo Hung-tak, associate professor at Baptist University's physical education department, said the root of the problem lay in the city's serious shortage of sports facilities. He said the urban planning standards for the provision of facilities, also known as the population-to-venue ratio, were low and outdated.
According to the Planning Department, one badminton court is offered for every 8,000 people and two tennis courts for every 30,000.
He also said 'the LCSD should increase the booking system's transparency - by, say, disclosing the list of priority users so that citizens unable to get a venue to play ball games can join the groups instead and make friends. Sometimes such groups do not use up their head count for a slot.'