My Take

In mega fund's eyes, public takes a back seat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 February, 2013, 2:52am

The Mega Events Fund should be renamed the "mega fun fund for the rich and well-connected".

The latest furore involves an HK$8 million subsidy for Kitchee Sports Club to organise an exhibition match with Manchester United in late July. A perennial favourite of the city's soccer fans, the event should pay for itself without a cent from taxpayers.

But since organisers and sponsors are making all of us pay, it should at least have the decency to let the public get their fair share of tickets for reasonably good seats.

But no, even the most expensive tickets will only get you a seat in the corners of the stadium. Only 18,000 tickets were sold to the general public in an event that is budgeted for 40,000 spectators. A whopping 11,000 tickets went to Man U, including some for title sponsor Aon.

I just love this: we pay them to play in town, and they take all the best seats to entertain their clients, friends and cousins - and travel agent. Even the Tourism Commission, the fund's overlord, gets 4,000 tickets. This is promoting Hong Kong all right … as the world's premier sucker.

Kitchee and the fund are now blaming each other. The club claims the government and Man U decided who gets what tickets. The fund chief, Jeffrey Lam kin-fung, has now threatened to take back some funding that has not been disbursed to the club.

Last year, the fund allocated HK$15 million for the UBS Hong Kong Open at the Hong Kong Golf Club to cover shortfalls because the bank didn't want to pay any more. Most of the money barely covered the appearance fee of world No1 Rory McIlroy, who promptly made an exit, blaming physical exhaustion. Who got to see the mega event in November? Well, club members, UBS clients and other corporate titans, with token tickets sold to the public.

It's a typical Hong Kong mentality that divides people into different categories, with some deserving priority and special treatment because they supposedly enhance this or that advantage about our city - while using public money to do it.

It is precisely such public subsidies that discourage private organisers to go on their own as they enjoy taxpayers' guarantee and access to privileged events. But if we must pay, at least get us some good seats.