Official objects to funding policy
A senior official has called for the equal treatment of all clubs as the government prepares to give selected teams handouts for the new season.
With the centennial Hong Kong First Division opener between Kitchee and Sunray Cave JC Sun Hei kicking off at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground today, Hong Kong Football Association vice-president Steven Lo Kit-sing said he was baffled by the intended distribution of money.
'I have no idea why only district clubs will be given government funding,' said Lo, who is also team convenor of South China, the club with over 100 years of history. 'Soccer is in a critical stage and it would be a positive sign if the government injected financial resources to all clubs. I am sure the commercial sector would follow suit if the government had a fair arrangement.'
The government will allocate up to HK$500,000 to each of the district-based teams (less for those in the lower divisions) under a three-year pilot scheme. There are three teams in the First Division that meet the requirements - Tai Po, Tuen Mun and newly promoted Sham Shui Po.
A senior government official in charge of sports development said the scheme's aim was to strengthen district club football, in line with recommendations made by a football consultancy study last year.
'The football consultancy study pinpointed the importance of developing football at the district level in order to create a stable base for the long-term improvement of the sport,' said Jonathan McKinley, Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs.
'The aim of helping these teams is to strengthen their coaching and administration and thereby improve their potential for attracting good players and building up a local fan base.
'We have no plans to extend the pilot scheme to non-district teams as this initiative is aimed at developing football at the district level.'
Lo said the government should not forget the bigger clubs, even if they could not receive direct monetary support. 'I was told it would be difficult to check where the public money goes if they provide us direct financial support and we understand this,' he said. 'But the government can do it in a way that they subsidise us for hiring training venues or offsetting the 20 per cent [levy on] gate receipts from matches. Then there will be no direct money transaction.'
But McKinley said the government had already earmarked funding to help the HKFA strengthen its administration, which would in turn benefit the clubs.
'With this support, we expect the HKFA to develop soccer to the extent where there is far greater local interest, which will directly benefit the clubs,' he said. 'Raising the game's standards will require some patience and the careful use of resources to ensure a strong base for the long-term development of the sport.'
Meanwhile, defending champions Kitchee are expecting a tough task in the BMA league opener against a revamped Sun Hei, who will parade at least half a new team, including forward Cheng Siu-wai.
'We cannot afford to give them too much space or it will be very difficult to stop them,' said Cheng, who joined from Kitchee this summer.