Senior Shield champions Wofoo Tai Po and Southern have threatened to withdraw from the First Division next season if the government fails to meet their request for increasing financial support, while a third district team, Tuen Mun, are seriously considering whether to stay in the top flight.
Wofoo Tai Po secretary Chan Ping said yesterday the three district clubs were facing tremendous financial pressure and would require at least a HK$3 million subvention from the government for next season to survive. He requested an urgent meeting with Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing to sort out their future.
"We are happy to know the secretary has recognised in his own blog recently the importance of district soccer and promised to review the funding support at the end of this season," said Chan. "It will be too late if they only make the review in the close season as our budget planning for the new season starts very soon.
"All the preparation has to be completed by April, including sending out letters to keep the players for next season." Both Tai Po and Southern have urged the government to increase subvention to district teams earlier in the season and Tsang responded in his blog three weeks ago that they would review it.
The district league was set up by the government in 2002 for teams to compete in the Third Division. Over the years, some of them have gained promotion to the top flight with three of them currently in the First Division. Each district team receive government subvention through their district board with a maximum of HK$600,000 a season for First Division clubs.
"Government subvention only accounts for 10 per cent of our annual budget and we have to raise the rest on our own," said Chan. "Tai Po have been in the First Division for six years and we have relied heavily on our own efforts. But there is always a limit to individual effort as we operate in the name of a district and our sponsors do not get the exposure they enjoy with other clubs because we are not a commercial club.
"We have recently heard from some district officials there will be an increase of a mere HK$200,000 for each of the three district clubs next season but we don't think this is acceptable.
"If the government fails to meet our request, we have no other way forward but to hand in our request to withdraw."
Tai Po, meanwhile, forced a 1-1 draw with visitors BC Rangers yesterday and moved one place ahead to third from the bottom of the table with 13 points.
"We are always confident we can overcome the relegation battle and although the current situation is not too convincing, we are still very positive," said Chan.
In another match, South China tightened their grip on their first league title in three years with a narrow 1-0 win over Citizen at Mong Kok Stadium. Manoel Filho scored from a free-kick in the first half. Citizen launched fierce attacks after the break but their efforts were in vain.
With four matches left in the season, the Caroliners, on 33 points, are heading rivals Kitchee by four points.
Citizen are second from the bottom with only 12 points, two points clear of cellar-dwellers Sun Hei.
"We created a couple of chances in the second half, but none of them materialised," said Citizen executive director Calvin Pui Ho-wang. "We will approach the remaining matches with great caution."
There is only a four-point difference in the 10-team league from fifth place Sun Pegasus to bottom team Sun Hei.