Local athletes returned from last month's Asian Games in Guangzhou with a record haul of eight gold, 15 silver and 17 bronze medals. The devotion and determination shown by individual athletes impressed Hongkongers, and persuaded more people to support the city's bid to host the event in 2023. Our sports heroes, led by cycling-gold-medallist Wong Kam-po, recently presented their case for the bid to the Legislative Council. They told a special meeting of the home affairs panel that hosting the event in Hong Kong would help improve sports facilities, raise the morale of local talent and build a platform to benefit both local and Asian athletes.
It was heartening to see their passionate support for the bid and their hope to be able to compete in this major competition at home one day.
At a ceremony to honour their achievements, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen pledged that the government would spend HK$30 billion to build more sports facilities and invest HK$7 billion in nurturing sports talent over the next 13 years.
To address lawmakers' concern over the huge costs of hosting the Games, he explained that HK$6 billion would be spent over the next 12 years leading up to the event. When compared with the HK$2 trillion the government is going to spend on education, medical and social welfare services, the Asian Games investment is not much at all.
Wong's passionate speech at Legco certainly won the hearts and minds of many Hongkongers. He was puzzled by the widespread opposition to the bid, and urged people to show a more positive attitude and not treat this important sports event as a political opportunity to win votes.
According to the latest polls, there has been an increase from 20 per cent to 30 per cent in the number of people who support the bid, but 56 per cent of respondents are still against it - a drop from 65 per cent previously. Lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing, of the Federation of Trade Unions, and the Liberal Party appear to be changing their stance to support the bid, while other political parties remain unconvinced.
We can understand why they vehemently oppose the bid. First, historically, the government has never attempted to promote or develop local sports. This sudden change of heart has naturally led many to suspect that it was merely motivated by our success at the recent Asian Games.
Then, there is the issue of budget. The Home Affairs Bureau initially proposed a budget of HK$14 billion and then adjusted it down to HK$6 billion, which raised suspicion that it is not a realistic projection.
To make things worse, Undersecretary for Home Affairs Florence Hui Hiu-fai said that if the bid was rejected, it would affect our long-term sports development. Her comments, which seemed to be a veiled threat, were objectionable and counterproductive.
Most people do not see the ugly side of the fight over the Asian Games bid. The fact is that many local talented athletes do not get a chance to participate in international sporting events because the decision-making power is vested in a handful of sports associations, a situation that is equivalent to a sports monopoly.
In the past, the local sports scene was effectively ruled by the so-called sports tsar of Hong Kong, Arnaldo de Oliveira Sales. Now we have Timothy Fok Tsun-ting as Hong Kong's Olympic chief. The selection of athletes for international events is often determined by these sports associations in a way that lacks transparency and fairness.
No wonder some sports people have opposed the Asian Games bid, demanding that the government step up its monitoring of various sports associations before moving onto the international stage of hosting large-scale events.
The government knows that our chances of hosting the Games in 2023 are slim. It is merely trying to show appreciation for the athletes' hard work and achievement. Most people seem to have misunderstood this and taken the bid far too seriously.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator