With the Legislative Council putting an end to the controversial bid for the 2023 Asian Games hardly two months ago it was inevitable that Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah would make a show of continuing commitment to sports in Hong Kong in his budget last week. HK$7 billion will be provided for the Hong Kong Sports Institute in the form of an Elite Athletes Development Fund in a pre-emptive strike against criticism it was only ever interested in a vanity project.
Athletes within the 14 elite sports eligible for the fund already enjoy the benefit of financial security, exclusive use of facilities and back-room support from the Sports Institute. The new fund will further boost the institute's ability to attract top-class training professionals and invest in equipment. But this budget initiative was in character with the budget in general - financial injections into policy areas without real commitment to structural reform.
Qualification for elite sports categorisation can be the life or death of that sport for years. When tennis and athletics failed to make the grade in 2007, 136 athletes had to move out from the Sports Institute. It is difficult to see how there can be long-term planning for the training of elite athletes and the development of the sport in general if athletes cannot be certain whether they will continue receiving support from the Sports Institute. Neither the redeveloped Sports Institute nor the new fund will be of any use to those unceremoniously dumped from the elite sports category.
Nor would that fund be of any use for the keen amateur who merely wishes to stay fit and healthy and play some competitive sport. The public and its lawmakers objected to the Asian Games bid arguing that the billions of dollars required to organise the Games would be better spent on developing a more comprehensive sports policy that benefits both elite professionals and amateurs. This new fund hardly responds to those demands, nor does it allay the fears that this government only wants to see competitions where the national flag is waved and anthems are sung, but is not interested in creating a sporting culture for Hong Kong.