Lack of cash scuppers HK Classic
World number one Caroline Wozniacki and other top women's players will not be on show in the city in January after lack of government funds and failure to find a commercial sponsor forced the organisers of the Hong Kong Tennis Classic to postpone the tournament.
'Over the last eight months, we have undertaken a strenuous title sponsorship search, but to date we have been unable to secure a sponsor. This has forced us to postpone the event in January,' said Ian Wade, president of the Hong Kong Tennis Patrons' Association (TPA). 'As we are already in October, we know players will now have committed to other tournaments and, sadly, there is no alternative but to postpone the event. In today's financial environment, finding a sponsor has been difficult, and this has proven to be the case.'
The Hong Kong Classic had received money from the government's Mega Events Fund for the past two tournaments. It received HK$9 million last year.
For this year's event in January, that sum was reduced to HK$5 million, forcing the TPA to dip into its own reserves as there was no title sponsor.
'We need around HK$10 million to stage the tournament every year with most of this going on paying appearance fees for the players. This year we went ahead after we dipped into our reserves. But we decided we could not continue to do that for 2012,' said Terry Catton, co-director of the tournament.
Attempts to find a title sponsor are continuing as organisers now look at holding the event at Victoria Park in September or October next year.
'While it is very sad that we cannot hold it in January, we are now exploring the possibility of having it later in the year. Both the ATP [men's tour] and WTA [women's tour] have their Asian swings around September/October and these would be the best dates to hold our event,' Catton said.
The tournament, played on a hardcourt surface, has been held in January in the past so it could be used as a warm-up for the season-opening grand slam event, the Australian Open.
'But moving to September or October will still depend on a title sponsor for, without one, there is no way we can go ahead,' Catton said.
Popular with the fans, the tournament this year featured Wozniacki, Venus Williams, Vera Zvonoreva and Li Na among other top women players, as well as a cast of former legends in the men's game, including American John McEnroe and Swede Stefan Edberg.
'We have brought to Hong Kong all the biggest stars in the sport over the last 35 years and thousands of fans have enjoyed the event. They recognise that this is the premier boutique event in Asia which offers a mix of top names and former stars,' Catton said.
'I hope this is a temporary glitch and that a sponsor will step forward. I hope we can stage it later next year.'
The postponement of the tournament would also result in fewer funds flowing into the development of junior players, said organisers of the Classic. The TPA, which used to organise the Marlboro Classic in the late 1980s and early '90s, has during the past 35 years given HK$15 million to the game at the grass-roots level.
'We know of no other organisation that has contributed so much to a sport from a single event - apart perhaps from the Rugby Sevens. We have succeeded magnificently over the years and a title sponsor will be aligning themselves not just to a high-profile event, but to an event which makes a tangible difference to the sport. We hope a sponsor would find the Hong Kong Tennis Classic a worthwhile event to support,' TPA vice-presidents James Tien Pei-chun and Dick Lee said.