A Hong Kong Football Association official has once again come to the defence of a controversial HK$60 million programme aimed at reviving local soccer, amid match-fixing allegations and other problems plaguing the sport.
Association vice-chairman Pui Kwan-kay acknowledged concerns over whether the publicly funded Project Phoenix had been effective in revamping local soccer three years since its launch.
“Our intentions were good but when putting things into practice, there are always problems,” Pui said in a local radio interview.
He reiterated that it would take time for the programme to produce tangible results despite the fact only 15 of the 33 promised initiatives in the project has since been achieved.
More than HK$20 million a year in taxpayer money has been injected under the initiative since it was launched in 2009. In the original proposal, the association said Hong Kong soccer was in a "paradoxical state" as the game was seen as the city's "national sport" but interest in domestic football was declining.
The 130-page Project Phoenix proposal in 2009 provided an assessment of the sport's health in Hong Kong and listed several recommendations for study, including allocating "home" grounds to each First Division team, restructuring the HKFA to put it back on firm financial footing and agreeing on criteria for establishing a new professional soccer league, and encouraging education programmes for young players.
The project also pledged to provide more funding to district and representative teams, provide greater support to youth soccer, and organise more international matches for the Hong Kong team.
A new "national" soccer training centre in Tseung Kwan O was also tabled. But despite already being promised funding from the Jockey Club, Pui says the HKFA have yet to come up with a timetable for it to be built.
“It will take time to produce results and nurture talent in the sport. Two to three years is not enough,” Pui said.
Democratic Party lawmaker Helena Wong Pik-wan wrote to the chairman of the Legislative Council’s home affairs panel, Ma Fung-kwok, on Tuesday urging him to invite relevant government officials and the HKFA for a committee meeting to shed light on the recent scandals.
She also demanded the government explain how has the HK$20 million-a-year Phoenix Project has helped revive Hong Kong soccer.
Associate professor Lobo Louie Hung-tak of Baptist University’s physical education department said the programme was at risk of being lumped in with the recent spate of corruption scandals in the local soccer league.
He pointed out that the some initiatives, such as those to promote youth soccer, had been done relatively well.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) arrested about 10 players of First Division team Happy Valley on Sunday night after a 5-0 loss against Sunray Cave Sun Hei at Tsing Yi.
The ICAC has so far refused to comment on the case but it is understood the players are being investigated for alleged match-fixing.
Happy Valley’s problems come just one month another First Division team, Tuen Mun, was accused of throwing a match after their defender Li Ming headed an own goal to lose the match 2-1 to Yokohama last month.
Pui, who is also chairman of Happy Valley, said the club’s board is closely monitoring the situation and will work closely with the ICAC.