Imagine canoes paddling in the harbour and crowds cheering at racing dragon boats against a magnificent backdrop showing our famous skyline. What used to be just artist impressions in brochures has become closer to reality. After years of campaigning, the proposal to build a world-class water sports centre in Kowloon East has won initial support from a Harbourfront Commission's task force and the Home Affairs Bureau.
Being a coastal city with a lovely harbour, Hong Kong should have lifted the project proposal from the drawing board a long time ago. The belated approval in principle from the authorities is no doubt welcome news to water sports lovers and spectators. Under the proposal, an international standard regatta course will be built for rowing, canoeing, and dragon boat racing, one of the highlights of Chinese festivals. The 1.8-hectare site adjoining the runway at the old Kai Tak airport also features a kayak whitewater course. Separately, the commission backed a proposal to make room on the harbourfront for an international yacht race village and a maritime museum in Causeway Bay.
Our city was put on the world water sports map as early as 1996 when our home-grown wind surfing queen Lee Lai-shan clinched an Olympic gold medal. Sadly, water sports still do not get the attention they deserve. Sixteen years later, there is still no venue that meets the technical requirements for holding international water sports events.
Unlike other coastal cities that have a strong affinity with the sea, we do not seem to have fully utilised our natural resources for recreation and public enjoyment. Despite a growing number of water sports athletes and fans, government and public support on this front still leave a lot to be desired. Our limited interest sits oddly with our history as a fishing village and the fact that much of our territory is surrounded by the sea.
It would be wrong to assume only sports lovers would benefit. The waters around Kai Tak are far too polluted for sports at present. That means the plan cannot go ahead unless water quality improves. Hopefully, the project can give a much-needed push to clean up our harbour.
The water sports centre is part of the grand vision to turn Kai Tak into a hub of sports, recreation, tourism, entertainment and quality housing developments. It would be a waste if the waterfront is not put to better recreational use. What we need is a strong will and funding to turn it into reality.