Four leading showjumpers have been put on notice after the Hong Kong Jockey Club extended its multi-million-dollar sponsorship of the Hong Kong equestrian team for only six months.
The club is reviewing the "performances and needs" of Patrick Lam Lap-suen, Samantha Lam, Kenneth Cheng Man-kit and Jacqueline Lai Jing-man after the four-year sponsorship programme, which began soon after the 2008 Beijing Olympics equestrian competition was held in Hong Kong, ended late last year.
Hopes that the programme would be renewed for another four years were dashed when the club announced it had decided to extend it until June 30 so as to also look at "other riders".
A Jockey Club spokesman said: "We will make good use of the coming six months to review the performances and the needs of the riders, as well as the sponsorship package. In addition, the club will keep its eyes on other local riders."
The six-month extension will ensure the senior riders, all based overseas, receive financial backing until this summer's China National Games. The Jockey Club refused to divulge how much the sponsorship meant in dollar terms. The initial fund was HK$50 million over four years.
While the Hong Kong Equestrian Federation said it was confident the Jockey Club would continue to support the sport - apart from the senior team, it also backs an eight-member junior team whose future is also being reviewed - it was in the dark as to why the programme had been extended for six months only.
"We are not in a position to answer that. It is their [Jockey Club] decision. All I can say is we are very grateful for all the support we have got from the Jockey Club and we are very optimistic it will continue,' said HKEF manager Angela Kong.
However, a source close to both parties said the Jockey Club was keeping its options open while undertaking a stringent review of its sponsorship. It is understood that in the glow of the Beijing Olympics it had been an easy decision to continue supporting equestrianism in Hong Kong. Three of the riders, Patrick Lam, Samantha Lam and Cheng had represented Hong Kong at the Olympics after receiving a wild-card entry.
Hong Kong failed to qualify for the London Olympics but the team have had successes over the past four years, including a first-ever gold medal in the sport at the China National Games, and a bronze medal at the Asian Games.
Patrick Lam won gold at the 2009 National Games in Jinan, Shandong, when he rode Forrester Boy in a flawless round. The following year, junior rider Jasmine Lai won Hong Kong a silver medal at the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. Also in 2010, Patrick Lam, Jacqueline Lai and Cheng won the team bronze medal in showjumping at the Guangzhou Asian Games.
All four senior riders are also backed by the Hong Kong Sports Institute with each receiving a monthly stipend of around HK$30,000 and yearly training grant of HK$135,000.
"We [HKEF] are supporting the riders having applied for government funding through the Sports Institute. This, however, depends on results and I believe the next review will be in April," Kong said.