Mega amount 'still owed to Hong Kong Open'

Government's MEF has yet to pay HK$7.5 million to organisers of the troubled tournament, says source, leaving it on the brink of bankruptcy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 11:35pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 December, 2013, 10:15am

The financial fissures running beneath the troubled Hong Kong Open go deeper than thought after it emerged the government's Mega Events Fund has not paid a HK$7.5 million balance from the HK$15 million it gave the tournament last year, leaving the event on the verge of bankruptcy.

A source told the Sunday Morning Post "the Hong Kong Golf Association is still waiting for 50 per cent of the MEF money given last year for the Open".

It is believed MEF officials were unhappy with the returns on their investment.

Our conversations with the government are confidential and not something we wish to discuss with the media
HKGA president William Chung

The fund, run by the government's Tourism Commission and set up in 2009 to assist the sports, arts and culture sectors staging major events, gave HK$15 million to the Hong Kong Open last year.

A major share of this money went on paying the appearance fee for Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.

The then number one, who was the defending champion, failed to make the cut leaving the tournament without its biggest name on the weekend.

MEF officials did not reply to inquiries that it was still sitting on 50 per cent of the promised sum. HKGA president William Chung said: "Our conversations with the government are confidential and not something we wish to discuss with the media."

HKGA chief executive Tom Phillips echoed Chung, saying: "All talks with the government remain confidential."

If not for the timely intervention of the Hong Kong Golf Club, this year's event which reaches its climax at Fanling today, would not have gone ahead.

Club captain Sidney Cheng said before the European Tour-Asian Tour-sanctioned event began that "if we hadn't stepped in this tournament would have been in danger of not being held".

Cheng said the club had pumped in a "major share" of the US$1.3 million prize money.

There is speculation that on top of this amount the club might have also taken on debt from the Hong Kong Golf Association - run up as it hadn't received the HK$7.5 million balance from the MEF.

The MEF has always maintained the practice of giving successful applicants only half the amount they asked for, a practice which has been criticised roundly by sports bodies, especially those struggling to find a title sponsor and running on a shoe-strong budget.

Last year, the Hong Kong Cricket Association found itself in a similar position after the MEF delayed the balance payment for the 2011 Hong Kong Sixes - a sum of HK$1.75 million.

Former HKCA chairman Dinesh Tandon called for the government to changes its 50-50 payment rule.

"What we would like to see is a change in the way money is disbursed to recipients, where instead of doling out only half up front, the entire sum, or at least most of it, be given straight away."

While cricket officials were lamenting over HK$1.75 million (which was given more than six months later), in golf's case the sum is multiplied many times resulting in the HKGA carrying a heavy debt.

The failure of the Hong Kong Open to find a title sponsor this year might also have a played a part in the HKGA's bid for funds this year being turned down.

"I think the MEF wasn't happy to support an event, which did not have a title sponsor," said the source.