The Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon attracted a record 65,000 entries this year, which shows that the annual event has become increasingly popular, drawing local and international runners. It has become the high point of the city's annual public events, and a 'Brand Hong Kong' affair supported by the government and community.
Hong Kong needs to host more of these wholesome international events because they help benefit society by building and nurturing community spirit. The government should fully support it to encourage more local participation. Not only does it increase public interest in sports, it can also bring a community together.
Despite having years of experience in organising the marathon, the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association (HKAAA) still fell short in some areas. This year, the 10km wheelchair race was cancelled because there were too few entries. This was unacceptable because the race was meant to encourage athletes from different backgrounds to participate and promote the integration of people with disabilities.
That was only one small problem; a bigger issue is community support. If we want to have genuine community support, we must involve the whole community and let it share the marathon spirit. We have to make the race more visible and more accessible, which means changing start times, moving the marathon into the heart of the city and allowing the community to cheer for the runners on race day. The route should cover the main areas of the city and be hosted during the day, not at 5am just because the organisers are concerned about creating traffic congestion.
This annual marathon is Hong Kong's biggest participatory sport and I am sure most people will be willing to suffer a bit of inconvenience once a year. We should turn the marathon into a signature sports event like the Rugby Sevens. It would certainly attract lots of visitors as well as promote our image as a world city for hosting international events.
It certainly doesn't seem right for such a significant event to be organised by the HKAAA with little transparency. The entry fees collected from local and overseas runners alone amounted to HK$19.5 million this year. And we shouldn't forget that there was also substantial commercial sponsorship and government support in providing logistics and medical emergency services.
The HKAAA should provide a full account of its annual revenue and expenditure for the marathon, in the interests of transparency. It should not withhold the financial data by hiding behind the excuse of protecting commercial interests and the integrity of the tendering process.
Another unreasonable requirement is the HK$100 deposit charge for a timing chip on loan to each runner during the race. The deposit is forfeited if the device is not returned after the race. Why not use a cheaper disposable chip instead? And what has happened to the forfeited deposits collected over the years?
Besides promoting and supporting the yearly event, the government should demand that the association be more transparent and disclose all financial details. To make the event more professionally executed and accountable to the public, it could copy the way fireworks displays are financed each year. The organisation that wins the contract would be responsible for producing a high-quality event, ensuring both professionalism and accountability.
If the government is serious about raising public interest in sports, it must lift the veil of secrecy around local sports associations to make them more accountable.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. email@example.com