Top rugby official Trevor Gregory has urged the government to unequivocally back building the Kai Tak sports hub so that the ambition of hosting games in the 2019 Rugby World Cup can be kept alive.
"We are still in with a chance of hosting a few games but with what has happened these last few days, we need the Hong Kong government to clearly state it will go ahead with building a stadium at Kai Tak and work should begin on it immediately," said Gregory, chairman of the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union. The HKRFU's plans to host games of the tournament, which will be held in Japan, have been in the pipeline for a number of years, based on the premise that Hong Kong will have a state-of-the-art 50,000-seater stadium with a retractable roof ready at Kai Tak.
Last weekend, the government cast doubt on the proposed HK$19 billion sports hub plan when a top adviser suggested the sports facilities could be moved to Sunny Bay on Lantau Island to make room for public housing. This has created a huge uproar in the sporting community with leading officials saying they would take to the streets in protest if it became a reality.
Rugby, which stands to lose the most, has vehemently blasted the idea. Gregory yesterday called for the government to quell all uncertainty.
"Next month the Asian Rugby Football Union will meet in Almaty, Kazakhstan for its council meeting and we will be trying to get some clarity with the Japanese Rugby Union on our chances to host some games of the 2019 World Cup in Hong Kong. Issues like this will certainly not help our case," Gregory said.
"But this is not just about the World Cup. Even the future of the Hong Kong Sevens is at stake here. This tournament has clearly shown it brings huge economic benefits to Hong Kong, but we need a bigger stadium. The existing one at So Kon Po is no longer sufficient for our needs.
"This is why it is imperative that we build one at Kai Tak. And work should start immediately. The further it is delayed, we have doubts it will be ready in time. At first we were told it would be ready in 2018, but now there are suggestions it might even be later, around 2020. This is terrible. It has been 20 years since we knew Kai Tak would close and the site is still empty. Hong Kong is a place where things get done, but not in this case," Gregory said.
Gregory urged the government to call for tenders, sort out the financing model, and to begin work on the new sports hub - which is proposed to include two ancillary stadiums including a 5,000-seater indoor stadium - as soon as possible.
"We can build a new stadium within two to three years. Just look at Singapore. They started work on their sports hub last year and it will be ready by 2014. So it is not impossible that we have a new stadium up and running by 2016 or 2017 if we can get everyone firmly committed to it right away.
"Rugby in Hong Kong is taking off. We are Asia's sevens champions. Our women are ranked third in the region. The sport is taking off but it is a real shame that the union has to build all its facilities. The government is not keeping up with the sports community. Even the current stadium at So Kon Po was built thanks to the Jockey Club. The government only provided the land.
"It is high time they came out and clearly stated their plans. We need clarity, especially if we are chasing the goal of bringing a few games from the 2019 World Cup to town," Gregory said.