Big, splashy events that gain overseas attention are good for Hong Kong. They raise our city's profile, further burnish its image and bring in tourists. Those are worthy reasons for the existence of the Tourism Commission's Mega Events Fund, which gives non-profit arts, cultural and sporting groups financial help to stage festivals, exhibitions and competitions. The recent soccer friendly between English premiership champions Manchester United and local heroes Kitchee certainly ticked all the right boxes, but whether taxpayers' funds should have been used is a matter of debate.
Hong Kong's profile was raised, but not as intended. The Hong Kong Stadium pitch fell short of international standards, bringing negative publicity. That did not hurt revenue prospects, though, because Manchester United is the world's most bankable football club. Moreover, co-organiser Kitchee Sports Club was guaranteed rich rewards. Yet the commission's assessment committee still determined that HK$8 million in public funds should be allocated. Its reasoning, as determined by its check list, was that along with the promise of financial return, there would be intense local and overseas interest, international media coverage, tourists and attendance of at least 10,000 people.
Those objectives would have been attained regardless of the involvement of the commission. It is the same argument that could be put for some of the other events that benefit from the HK$150 million fund, the Hong Kong Open golf tournament among them. Yet others, which also draw overseas teams and fans and garner wide interest, like the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes, have this year been unable to get its backing. One prerequisite they fail to meet is not being able to attract 10,000 fans and a sizeable number of foreign visitors.
Making such a scheme work involves experience and fine-tuning. Set up in 2009, the Mega Events Fund was revised last year and extended for a further five years under a two-tier system. But while the aims and what is required to be eligible for funding are made plain, there is a lack of transparency when it comes to the selection of projects. Nor can the benefits always be accurately gauged. Measuring the value of international exposure is not an exact science and determining how many tourists attended a particular event is challenging. Large-scale extravaganzas and big names are not the only way of making Hong Kong the region's main attraction.