MEF's third rejection of support for Sixes demands an explanation

Popular event left in limbo as request for funding inexplicably turned down again

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 10:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 10:17pm

We have all but given up trying to figure out how the people running the Mega Events Fund reach decisions on whether to fund a sporting event, or as seems to happen in most cases, not to fund them.

The Hong Kong Sixes was knocked back for the third time by the MEF and once again there was no explanation from the assessment committee, other than the usual bureaucratic baloney that it does not have to explain its actions. In other words, this committee is above everyone else.

Having tried and failed many times in the past to get an answer from the committee, we thought we should try to get something from an individual - Jonathan McKinley, deputy secretary for Home Affairs - who is on the committee.

It is not appropriate for individual members of the MEF Assessment Committee to comment publicly on collective decisions reached by the committee
Jonathan McKinley

But as expected the answer was nada. McKinley said: "It is not appropriate for individual members of the MEF Assessment Committee to comment publicly on collective decisions reached by the committee".

This leaves us with little option, but to speculate on the reasons why the MEF hit the popular cricket show for a six - for the third time in 10 months.

Let's look at what facts are available. In the first application, for last year's tournament, the Hong Kong Cricket Association asked for HK$10 million. That was shot down, but the MEF said it would welcome another reduced application and the HKCA went back with an application for HK$5 million. That too was rebuffed.

This year the application was for HK$3.5 million - the amount the Sixes was awarded in 2011 when the MEF backed the tournament for the only time - but this too was turned down. One of the fundamental criteria is for a successful applicant to be able to guarantee a crowd of 10,000. That is all but impossible at Kowloon Cricket Club due to its ability to accommodate just 3,500 people. To get around this, the HKCA had plans to expand the tournament to a three-day event. Yet, they were shot down. So it wasn't about the size of the tournament. What was the sticking point? Reader Max Clissold's theory centred round sporting minorities and race. In an e-mail, he suggested that if the person running the HKCA was Mike Wong rather than Mike Walsh, perhaps the tournament would benefit. Clissold bases his argument on the fact that Walsh, HKCA chairman, was quoted in this newspaper as saying: "Perhaps we just can't compete with lion dancing."

He was referring to the fact that last year the MEF supported two sporting events - lion dancing and the dragon boat races. It was a comment made with tongue firmly in cheek, but it would be worrying if there is even a glimmer of truth in Clissold's hypothesis. It raises the issue of whether the Sixes is handicapped in that it is seen as a minority sport. Cricket, as everyone knows, is a favourite of people from the subcontinent. The national team is largely made up of players of Pakistani ethnicity. They may have been born in Hong Kong, or lived most of their life here, but at first glance the common perception could be "it is them against us".

A global World Values survey last year revealed that one in four Hongkongers said they do not want a neighbour of a different race. Studies by the Equal Opportunities Commission, and even the government, point to the existence of bias against ethnic minorities.

No less a person than Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, in an article contributed to this paper some months ago admitted that "Asia's World City" was racially intolerant. But he also said in most cases "prejudicial attitudes may be subconscious".

Is this the case with the MEF and the Hong Kong Sixes? I hope not and I pray Clissold is wrong in his belief that a Wong rather than a Walsh would help serve the interests of the event better. But all this conjecture is no help to the tournament.

Last year, the HKCA decided to cancel the showpiece as it felt it could not run the financial risk without the support of a title sponsor too. It finds itself in the same position again, but a brave stance must be taken and it should go ahead.

If the HKCA cancels the tournament for two years in a row, the Sixes could be in danger of losing its place in the minds of people who matter - the various cricket boards, especially the test-playing nations. Last year's abandonment cost plenty with lots of people, cricketers as well as officials from overseas wondering what had happened.

A second year of the same would be catastrophic.