Soccer chief asks for HK$100 million to transform game in Hong Kong

HKFA boss asks government for 0.5 per cent of revenues generated from betting on overseas matches in new five-year strategic plan

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 October, 2013, 12:43am

The Hong Kong Football Association has asked the government and Hong Kong Jockey Club for annual funding of HK$100 million, which it says can be easily afforded from a tiny share of the revenue from soccer betting on overseas matches, said top official Mark Sutcliffe.

In a new five-year strategic plan to be unveiled next month, architect and HKFA chief executive Sutcliffe believes tripling the existing government funding "would transform the sport" and help Hong Kong climb back up the Fifa rankings.

To source the funds, Sutcliffe has already approached the government to either consider allowing betting on Hong Kong soccer; establish a new fund linked to the existing betting licence (on overseas matches); or use some of the interest and investment returns from the Elite Athletes Development Fund (HK$7 billion) set up to fund elite sports.

"At the end of the day it doesn't matter where the money comes from as long as it is there," Sutcliffe said. "Money shouldn't be an issue. I understand the problems over providing facilities which is a physical resource, but HK$100 million is peanuts for a place like this. If we got this sort of funding annually, it would transform the sport."

In a wide-ranging strategic plan called "Aiming High - Together", which builds on Project Phoenix, Sutcliffe outlines the urgent needs for change if the sport is to prosper again with funding being the critical factor to swing fortunes around, especially at the national level where Hong Kong are ranked 148th in the world.

The HKFA receives around HK$34 million annually in the form of government grants and charitable sponsorship, which Sutcliffe labelled in his blog as "a slice of the football betting pie you could hardly see".

"An annual surplus of around HK$20 billion is generated from football betting in Hong Kong," Sutcliffe said. "The HKFA receives an amount equivalent to 0.17 per cent of this in the form of government grants and charitable sponsorship, which is similar in scale to a one-year-old child standing next to the ICC building. If this was increased to half of 1 per cent [0.5 which is around HK$100 million] it would still be a drop in the ocean but it would literally transform the sport."

Jonathan McKinley, deputy secretary for Home Affairs, refused to comment on increased support from the government which under its Project Phoenix - a comprehensive plan to revitalise the game - pumps in HK$20 million annually.

"I would not wish to comment without having seen it [the HKFA strategic plan] and having discussed it with the HKFA," McKinley said.

The strategic plan will be presented to the HKFA's board of directors in the next couple of days, and once approved passed on to the government at next month's meeting of its football taskforce.

The Jockey Club's total turnover from soccer betting has continued to rise in its 10th year of operation. For its financial year of July 2012 to June 2013, turnover was HK$50.6 billion, a 7 per cent year-on-year increase.

Sutcliffe said the total revenue - Jockey Club profits and taxes paid to the government - amounted to around HK$20 billion and a tiny part of it should be given to the development of the game.

"I have already approached the government and their initial response is it would be hard to justify football getting more resources - they believe other sports would complain.

"But I can't think of any other sport in Hong Kong that generates a surplus of HK$20 billion a year. It might come from betting and from betting on foreign football but it is still money got from people in Hong Kong and it wouldn't exist without football," Sutcliffe said.

He rued the fact that football was not part of the elite sports programme, which this year was funded by the government to the tune of HK$325 million.

The HKFA representative teams received government subvention in 2013 amounting to HK$4.6 million.

"Football is not an elite sport because the criteria for gaining that status are based on the attainment of medals in international competition.

"The problem for us is that without the investment that is given to elite sports, we are unlikely to ever gain that level of performance - it is a chicken and egg scenario," Sutcliffe said.