The popular Hong Kong Sixes has been forced to scale back its request for government funding by HK$5 million after the Mega Events Fund turned down a plea for financial assistance, and the sport's domestic governing body says the tournament is in danger of being scrapped if no money is forthcoming.
The Hong Kong Cricket Association had applied for HK$10 million for the six-a-side international tournament slated for the last weekend in October at the Kowloon Cricket Club. That request fell on deaf ears. The event is also struggling to find a title sponsor.
"The MEF has turned down our request for HK$10 million and it is a major blow," said HKCA chairman Mike Walsh. "The application was put in with an eye on getting down an All-Star team but now we have been forced to do a re-think. Right now we don't have MEF funding and we don't have a title sponsor, which places the event in danger of not going ahead."
This would be a massive blow for the Sixes as it is now recognised by the International Cricket Council. A break could see the event dropping off the international radar, a development that would be hard to reverse.
Walsh, however, remained hopeful. Last Friday, he met a senior MEF official who suggested a smaller application might be considered more favourably.
"We have been told to make a fresh bid but for a smaller sum and we have done that, asking for half of what we wanted," Walsh said. "It will be a crying shame if we are turned down again. This is a tournament the city and the world love. We have had it for 16 years and it would be a great loss if we cannot go ahead this year."
Last year the Sixes went ahead without MEF support, but was cut back to a two-day event from three days in 2011, when the MEF gave HK$3.5 million. There was also no All-Star team last year.
Former HKCA president Shahzada Saleem and his executive council had put in the original application for HK$10 million. The thinking was that with this sum, the Sixes would be able to pay the appearance fees demanded by current and past superstars. It is believed that among those targeted were retired players Rahul Dravid, Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan as well as current players like West Indian master-blaster Chris Gayle and Sri Lanka's electric fast bowler Lasith Malinga, both of whom have no commitments in late October.
The MEF did not reply to inquiries from the South China Morning Post.
"They have only approved two events this year and they are sitting on a large cash pile. The government certainly moves in mysterious ways," Walsh said.
The MEF had HK$49 million unspent from its first kitty of HK$100 million set up by the government in 2009. Last year it received an injection of HK$150 million, which together with the unspent money, is meant to boost major sports, arts and culture events until 2017. Only two events had received funding by the end of May - HK$6.75 million for last weekend's Dragon Boat Carnival and next year's Lion Dance Extravaganza.
"We need a decision quickly. Time is running short as we have to book hotels, arrange flights and so on. It is not looking good right now but hope springs eternal," Walsh said.