Hong Kong's sports stars told lawmakers yesterday why they believe hosting the 2023 Asian Games would be a positive move for the city.
But they apparently failed to impress major political parties, who are opposing the bid.
Led by cycling gold medalist Wong Kam-po, more than 20 athletes and representatives of the Elite Athletes Association and the Hong Kong Sports Institute said the Games would help improve facilities and raise the morale of local talent.
But Wong said at a special meeting of the Legislative Council: 'I'm really sad because sport should be a good thing and should get positive discussion, but many political parties have rejected it straight away.'
Wong, who won the 180-kilometre road race at the Asian Games in Guangzhou last week, called on the legislators to consider the long-term benefits of hosting the event.
He said: 'Hong Kong is a member of the Olympic Council of Asia, and thus should have the obligation and power [to take part], and should also build a stage for Asian and local athletes and bid to host the Games, if economic conditions allow.
'I hope you will change your positions at the last moment.'
Cyclist Wong Wan-yiu, who won a silver medal in the points race despite riding with a broken rib, said: 'It wasn't pain that made me cry on the winner's podium - it was the heartening glee.
'Bidding to host the Games will also hearten many athletes.'Many lawmakers expressed their respect for the athletes, but said they remained doubtful about the government's desire to promote sport in general.
'Emotional thoughts have to be listened to, but rational ones have to be considered, too,' independent lawmaker Lam Tai-fai, of the industrial sector, said.
'If the government can work out a good plan, a good budget and a good efficiency projection, I believe everyone would say yes.' Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said her Civic Party supported the promotion of sport by the government but questioned whether hosting the Games was the best way to achieve it.
The government's plan to slash its original budget for the Games by more than half after it was unfavourably received also did not help, she said.
Ip Kwok-him, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said the party would make a decision according to public opinion.
Public sentiment towards a Games bid was negative in September when the government announced the idea.
Then, on November 9, the administration announced it had slashed its proposed budget from the original estimate of between HK$13.7 billion and HK$14.5 billion, to less than HK$6 billion.
Several lawmakers also referred to the recent call by Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing for parties not to politicise the bid.
Kam Nai-wai, of the Democratic Party, said Tsang had a political motive for arranging an Asian Games celebration at Chater Garden - next to Legco - tomorrow, when the 10-week public consultation ends.
Democrat Nelson Wong Sing-chi said: 'We're not trying to politicise and complicate the matter. We just haven't seen enough determination from the government.
'If the government was determined, why didn't other departments other than the Home Affairs Bureau show support?
'To host the Games isn't a department's work,' he said.Tsang rejected suggestions he was backing a Games bid to achieve personal glory or to save face.
And he urged lawmakers to think in terms of the next generation.
He said: 'I am sure I won't still be in the SAR government in 2023. If you talk about any glory, I'm sure it will not be mine to take.'
The think-tank New Forum released a survey yesterday which showed 49 per cent of the 2,700 respondents did not support the bid, with 31 per cent supporting it.
The estimated proposed budget for hosting the Asian Games in 2023 was slashed by the government earlier this month from HK$13.7 billion to: $6b