It might not be a lot of money, but the HK$3.5 million the government's Mega Events Fund doled out to the Hong Kong Sixes this month is not to be sneezed at. What the handout represents is recognition for the game within the halls of government, a target the Hong Kong Cricket Association had been pursuing over the past few years.
But this is just the first step. The true goal is an international-sized ground, a home for Hong Kong cricket as well as its local governing body which has relied on established clubs for facilities since the game hit these shores in the early 19th century. That practice continues today. The home of the Sixes has been the Kowloon Cricket Club. Apart from a couple of years of experimenting with Hong Kong Stadium, the event has been played at the homely and quaint KCC. The only problem is the ground's size. Small and snug, it can hold only around 4,000 fans at a push.
Size matters. A bigger ground would afford the HKCA the luxury of being able to attract bigger sponsors and of course larger audiences, both critical to staging a successful tournament and turning a profit. Not that the Sixes hasn't been successful. Despite the modest accommodations, the tournament has earned a reputation as a fun event and is well known on the international stage. Yet for it to truly become a second Hong Kong Sevens, it has to grow. This is the stumbling block facing the HKCA. The lack of a facility which can comfortably accommodate at least 10,000 fans, has prevented the tournament, as well as the game, from really taking off.
But there seems to be hope. The first sign was the support from the Mega Events Fund. The HKCA had asked for HK$5 million. Despite the fund having a surplus and a deadline to spend it, the government remained cautious. A few months ago, we reported the MEF had nearly HK$50 million left in its coffers, half the sum it started out with a couple of years ago when the government set up the scheme to give sports, arts and cultural events a helping hand. This money must be spent before the end of next March.
Whether the scheme has been a success or not is a moot point. Critics have panned the MEF for having overly stringent requirements and all sorts of red tape. As far as the HKCA is concerned, they are thankful. Dinesh Tandon, the HKCA chairman, said he hoped in the interests of 'encouraging international events in Hong Kong, the government continues to support the MEF initiative in the years to come'.
For the HKCA, HK$3.5 million is a large amount to play with. 'The funding provides a great opportunity for us to push the boundaries of the event even further and we have some exciting new ideas that will add significantly to the enjoyment of spectators and the millions more watching around the world,' Tandon said. 'The funding is recognition that the Sixes, as the only international cricket event in Hong Kong and with the full sanction of the International Cricket Council, is a significant international event on the calendar with a high potential to help promote the city to international audiences.'
Despite having a generous sponsor in Karp Jewellery, the Sixes has survived by the skin of its teeth in the past couple of years. This new source of money will allow tournament organisers to take some bold steps. They have already revealed this year's event will for the first time be played over three days, the All-Stars are back and it will be a 12-team event.
Already there is a buzz in the air. The All-Stars will add an extra dimension, provided they include players of comparable calibre to Shane Warne and Brian Lara, who played the last time such a side was fielded. It seems a similar outfit will gather again with news that Sri Lankan world record-holder Muttiah Muralitharan and Australian Adam Gilchrist are two players being targeted. The other three new teams which could take part are Ireland, Scotland and Bangladesh. These are astute invitations as each country has wide support in Hong Kong.
More teams means more hotel rooms, more flights, more money. This is what the MEF has afforded the Sixes - the means to be a bit more expansive. It is the first step towards turning the event into something truly memorable and, in the end, hopefully profitable for the HKCA. Now the government has given the Sixes a shot in the arm, the next step would be to provide something more substantial - a ground capable of hosting the Sixes. When the new Kai Tak sports hub is built, the HKCA will be among many sports organisations hoping for a modern facility capable of hosting around 15,000 fans.