Hong Kong's Olympic body must move with the times

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 4:43am
UPDATED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 4:43am

When the same old faces are elected repeatedly to run an organisation, it means either the leadership is popular or the system is so archaic that it risks becoming a dinosaur. This appears to be the situation the city's sports executives are facing. For many years the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong was said to have returned its office bearers without an actual ballot. The executives, many of whom have served for decades, have even passed seats to their children.

There is arguably nothing wrong with such a practice in business empires or private clubs. But the Olympic body is neither. Together with dozens of sports associations, it oversees the city's sports training with an annual budget of HK$200 million from taxpayers. It is only natural for the public to expect higher levels of transparency and accountability from them.

The suggestion that the office used to be filled by rounds of applause rather than votes is disturbing; and even more so when the rules were bent occasionally to accommodate the unqualified. Amid growing concern over its governance and operation, the committee's new leadership was elected with limited competition last month. For the first time in years, the contest for eight vice-presidents attracted a challenger. She was defeated by a wide margin, while the remaining seats were filled as scripted. The outcome speaks volumes about the system.

The ballot is "small circle" by nature. Only dozens of groups and individuals can vote. But that does not mean transparency and accountability can be sacrificed. It is a pity that the media were not allowed to cover the voting process. The closed-door election makes its difficult to judge whether irregularities were involved. Committee chief Timothy Fok Tsun-ting maintained that the vote was open and fair. But it would hardly be surprising if people thought otherwise.

Long tenures for sports chiefs are not uncommon overseas. Juan Antonio Samaranch led the International Olympic Committee for 21 years. A long reign is not necessarily bad, but it does not help to nurture talent and new thinking. When posts are seemingly passed along family lines, there is every reason to be concerned. The sports sector needs to move ahead with the times and become more open and accountable. The public awaits clearer criteria by which they can judge whether government money has been well spent.