2023 knocks on our door again

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 February, 2012, 12:00am


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It might not be the most appropriate time to bring this up with our leaders - incumbent and hopeful - who are both up to their necks in all sorts of personal problems. But Donald (Tsang Yam-kuen) and Henry (Tang Ying-yen), please spare a thought when you have a moment of sanity to the possibility of a renewed attempt to land the 2023 Asian Games.

Our chief executive, and the pretender to his throne, might not be aware that the 2023 Asian Games is still up for grabs what with all the other headaches facing them. But a decision taken by the Olympic Council of Asia to revoke plans to decide both the hosting cities for the 2019 and 2023 Asian Games at its next general assembly - in Macau this November - has given a fresh lease of life to any hopes Hong Kong had for the 2023 Games.

Having seen the farce conducted by Fifa in deciding the cities for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, the OCA has backtracked quickly and will now only vote on the 2019 host city this November. The city for the 2023 Asian Games will be most likely decided at its general assembly in 2016.

Hong Kong, which turned down the opportunity to run in the race for 2023, now has time to reconsider its decision. And this time the goalposts have been moved with the OCA revealing it would not be averse to a joint bid from Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen.

A singular bid would be best as it would then fall upon this city alone to prove it can put on a show. It would be easier planning and running the event on your own than with partners. Yes, it may cost more, but in the end with a prudent approach - the estimate last time was only HK$6 billion for operational costs - it can be pulled off.

A joint bid on the other hand spreads the expenditure and resources needed. Both Macau and Shenzhen have sporting facilities that are new and well-equipped. Macau hosted the 2005 East Asian Games and has quality facilities, while Shenzhen hosted the World University Games with much success last year.

Sharing the Games would kill all opposition from those people who say sporting events lead to countries going into debt. Greece is the worst example. The Athens Olympics in 2004 is blamed as one of the main reasons why the country is in hock to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to the tune of hundreds of billons of euros.

Hong Kong and Greece are poles apart. While the government might still spend extravagantly on grandiose projects like the express rail link between here and Guangzhou, our huge fiscal reserves are generally well managed with lots of checks and balances.

OCA director-general Husain Al-Musallam has already stated be believes Hong Kong, on its own, could put on a good show, adding that a 2023 bid would 'stand a very good chance'.

Is it time to have a rethink? We certainly have the time to do that now. Last year, the Legislative Council voted against a motion for HK$6 billion in funding for a bid to host the 2023 showpiece. If a week is a long time in politics, then surely perceptions can change a few months down the line, especially when we have a new administration in place.

To be fair to the present administration, it was very supportive of a bid for the 2023 Asian Games. Its only fault was that it did not come out strong and vocal in support of the bid, preferring to let the people, or rather Legco, decide. In addition, there was a lot of confusion surrounding the projected costs for hosting the Games and this in the end led to a sour note enveloping the entire bid. We can learn from those mistakes.

A senior government official in charge of sport, Jonathan McKinley, has already said the government was open to a fresh bid, but that it would need the local sports community to push it through. He was also surprised to discover that the 2023 Asian Games was still open for bidding.

It is high time the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee take a more proactive stance. They should have been on to the government immediately, as soon as the OCA decided to split the voting for the 2019 and 2023 host cities, to tell the administration that Hong Kong still stands a chance.

We need Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee to take a more frontline role and push for a fresh bid for 2023. Yes, we failed the first time around, but let's learn from that and look ahead now with renewed enthusiasm.

Whether we should go hand in hand with Macau and Shenzhen can be decided later - and that is something which only Beijing can rule on. But before we come to that stage, we must first decide if Hong Kong wants to join in the party. The OCA has opened the door again and Hong Kong must grasp this opportunity.