Building more top-class facilities will not bring growth in sports like soccer as long as there is no clear distinction in usage between recreation and sport, a former government town planner says.
'The social demands have moved away from recreation to serious competitive sports participation and this difference is not recognised in planning for sports facilities or in their management,' said Ian Brownlee, who left the government's Planning Department in 1992 to work in the private sector.
He said the investment in a state-of-the-art 50,000-seat stadium at the Kai Tak sports hub was an outlay in entertainment and would do little to help grass-roots sport.
'Hong Kong is unlikely to regularly fill the stadium with sports fans and it is unlikely to be viable solely for this purpose,' Brownlee said. 'So it will be used for financially-generating activities such as Canto-pop concerts and entertainment. This is an investment in entertainment, not sport.'
It is estimated the sports hub, for which funding and how it will be funded is undecided, would cost HK$17 billion.
Apart from the Hong Kong Sevens, which sells out annually, the 40,000-capacity Hong Kong Stadium at So Kon Po rarely draws a full house for other sporting events.
Due to noise restrictions, the Hong Kong Stadium cannot be used for pop concerts, a hurdle which will be missing when the new stadium at Kai Tak comes on board. Brownlee fears that sport will take a back seat.
'It won't be made accessible for general public use. It would be better if the area was turned into a large number of playing fields and courts, plus smaller stadia for tennis and football,' said Brownlee, who during his tenure as a director of facilities at the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union was chiefly responsible for acquiring King's Park solely for sporting activities instead of being turned into another property development.
'We have to reduce the investment in concrete monoliths and focus on what is likely to contribute best for sport - and this is to provide more open spaces.'
The city's planning standards for the provision of open space - which includes outdoor pitches - were developed in the 1970s and are outdated. Under the standard, the minimum requirement of open space for one person is set at 2 square metres (in Singapore it is 8 square metres).
'Our open space standards were developed at a time when there were different social requirements and are inappropriate for a society which is demanding a greener city, better work/life balance, and has more time for sport and recreation.'
The severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003 played a huge role in changing social attitudes towards being outdoors and being healthy and active.
'A five-day week leaves people with more time for sport and recreation, and people are seriously taking time out on these pursuits as they want to have a better balance in their life,' Brownlee said. 'But the existing planning and provision of sports facilities does not distinguish between recreation and sport. No priority is given to sports use, even though organised competitive sports use has grown.
'There is just not enough pitch time to accommodate the growing demands from soccer, rugby and hockey among other sports.
'We need a specific sports plan for Kai Tak which should integrate facilities serving many sports by including in the design roads and other infrastructure whereby you can have running races, cycle races, water sports.
'But the existing infrastructure proposals for the cruise terminal will ruin the prospect of Kai Tak becoming a real sports hub.'