Hong Kong's athletes did not bring any medals home from the Beijing Olympics. That does not mean that they failed to put in good performances or do us proud. Finishing sixth and ninth in the world in windsurfing, as did Chan King-yin and Vicky Chan Wai-kei, is not to be sniffed at. Nor is the breaking of five local swimming records or the reaching of respectable stages in the table tennis competitions. What the zero tally says is that we need to put more investment into sport.
Nations the world over have recognised the value of sport and recreation in building healthy communities. They also know that when it comes to the Olympic Games, they need to invest in their best athletes. The financial commitment certainly paid off for China and Britain, but was equally evident in the performances of the dozens of other countries and territories that garnered medals. Olympic success brings pride for society and that in turn helps to engender a sporting spirit and desire.
The process must be rooted in staunch government support. Policies have to ensure that our elite athletes have the facilities, training and backing to enable them to thrive. Our lack of Games medals indicates that at present, they are treading water. Top 10 performances were achieved by our windsurfers only because they had the resources to train overseas.
Fortunately, the government has promised generous support for the redevelopment of the Hong Kong Sports Institute. The holding of Olympic equestrian and paralympic events here forced a scattering of the institute's facilities. Under a proposed HK$1.8 billion revamp, state-of-the-art facilities for 11 chosen sports should be in place in 2011. But that is just a start: Our hundreds of elite athletes also need top-level coaching and sustainable financial backing to ensure that they can reach the top echelons of their chosen sports.
Olympics chef de mission Victor Hui Chun-fui said on Sunday that standards needed to be raised and he would submit a report to the government to determine what support could be given. Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing said such a plan would be studied, but there could be no promise of extra funding. Finance is only part of building a better sporting culture though; we need a government committed to sport, recreation and fitness.
Land has to be set aside and more sports halls and courts built. Demand for sport is growing, but the facilities are overcrowded and inadequate. Schools should explore making their facilities available for public use. Hang Seng Bank, which has a cash incentive programme for our Olympic athletes, is one of a small number of businesses that sponsor elite sportsmen. More companies should be encouraged to look at wider involvement in sport through sponsorship and scholarships.
Other governments are pouring resources into sports and winning Olympic medals as a result. Hong Kong is being left behind. Authorities need to take the lead and spearhead top-level support for our elite athletes. Through this help, with corporate backing, Hong Kong has a good chance of returning to the Olympics medal table. But this is only part of the overall strategy. Greater dedication to sport and recreation will improve the population's health and fitness.