Sport for all easier said than done
Promoting sports for all has long been a government policy. But long hours of work and study have made the work-life balance easier said than done. Despite a general awareness that regular exercise is the key to a healthy lifestyle, few people have the will and time for it. But even if they do, reserving a slot in a public sports venue may already be a challenging exercise. This is because the usage of government facilities is found to be infested with problems and open to abuses.
An initial probe by the Ombudsman found that there were 700 cases of breach of booking conditions last year, in which groups given priorities for block-booking up to 12 months did not turn up for the slots reserved. Despite the penalty system put in place, the groups were only given written or verbal warnings. However, individuals can only make advance booking for venues not taken up by priority users like sports associations, clubs and schools within 30 days. Online touting is also rampant, with an original soccer pitch session at HK$336 being offered for HK$500 on the internet.
It is ridiculous when on one hand, some frustrated users cannot secure the preferred slot even if they wake up and log in to the booking system at 7am sharp, when booking starts on a first come first served basis; while on the other hand, the privileged ones who have wasted the bookings can walk away without penalty.
There are 62,000 fee-charging sessions available for public use every day. Inevitably some venues are more sought-after than others, resulting in some being overbooked and others underused. But the problems identified by the government watchdog appear to go beyond the simple rule of supply and demand. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department should actively follow up on the problems.
A sports for all policy not backed by fair public access to sporting venues is meaningless. A critical review of booking arrangement is urgently needed to prove that officials are not just paying lip service to promoting the work-life balance.