Hong Kong Open a HK$15m can of worms

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 3:24am

Taxpayers should ask why they are paying Rory McIlroy an obscene amount of public money to play a few rounds of golf in Hong Kong. The government's Mega Events Fund has agreed to give a whopping HK$15 million to organisers of next month's UBS Hong Kong Open at the Hong Kong Golf Club.

This is the same government that is planning to nickel-and-dime the elderly by means-testing them for a "fruit money" rise.

Organisers are mum about how much they are paying the world number one - can they do that when it's mostly our money? But it is believed McIlroy's appearance fee alone will eat up much of the government fund's generous handout. Investment bank UBS has been the title sponsor and had a US$300,000, two-year deal with the star, but it expired last year. There were fears he might not return. Fear not, tournament organisers have managed to get a government bailout.

The government fund also gave HK$8 million to the golf tournament last year. Who made the decision to pay for a tournament that is ultimately an elite sport? We are not talking about soccer here. Well, Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung is chairman of the fund's assessment committee.

He said the event would "add vibrancy and colour to the city and further raise the profile of Hong Kong globally". He is also one of the bosses of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and a lawmaker. Lam added: "We are glad to see the gathering of more world-class players in this wonderful international tournament and we are pleased to sponsor the UBS Hong Kong Open once again."

Despite all his impressive titles, what you really need to know about Lam is that he was a core supporter of Henry Tang Ying-yen, Leung Chun-ying's main rival in the chief executive race. With enemies on all sides, Leung needs to placate the Tang camp. So Leung is hardly going to complain. But this HK$15 million price tag is starting to look like Lam and his rich friends are thumbing their noses at the Leung administration, which has vowed to improve the livelihoods of the grass roots and poor as a policy priority.

We should at least demand that the game be renamed the Hong Kong Taxpayers Open and be made a free event for the public.