Squabble among HK kitesurfing groups a downer for the sport
Future of newest Olympic discipline uncertain in Hong Kong with five local surfers banned and three groups battling to represent the sport
The future of the new Olympic discipline of kiteboarding in Hong Kong is up in the air, with infighting among three separate bodies all claiming to be numero uno and chasing a potential windfall of multi-million-dollar government funding.
The water has been further muddied with the International Kiteboarding Association (IKA), which includes Richard Branson as one of its Olympic ambassadors, having banned five Hong Kong surfers from taking part in any event worldwide.
"It is a severe penalty and a disgrace to the kiteboarding community of Hong Kong," says Jay Chau Hong-wai, vice-president of the fledging Hong Kong Kiteboarding Federation (HKKF). "They were banned two years ago and it still continues."
David Lai, Kevin Leung, Lau Chi-wai, Liu Cheung-foon and Owen Ko were all members of the Kiteboarding Hong Kong Association. In 2009, they organised a Kiteboard Tour Asia (KTA) event - which came under the umbrella of the IKA - and everything went off smoothly.
The trouble began afterwards, said Leung.
"It was a business matter, a commercial reason, which caused all the problems. We gave them HK$100,000 but they claimed we owed them another HK$10,000. It is over this small amount that we have been banned."
That was the first and last KTA event in Hong Kong and the five Hong Kong surfers are the only ones banned worldwide. And their bans may not have come to light if not for the fact that in May, the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) dropped a bombshell when it ditched windsurfing as an Olympic discipline and replaced it with kiteboarding for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The HKKF claims it is the governing body of the sport, as it is affiliated with the IKA. But this hasn't helped it gain much leeway with the Hong Kong Sailing Federation (HKSF), which has rebuffed an application to join from the kitesurfers.
"Before we can think of government funding, we first have to be recognised by the Hong Kong Sports Federation & Olympic Committee," Chau said.
"It told us that to be recognised, we have to first be members of the Hong Kong Sailing Federation, as kiteboarding is under the ISAF.
"We approached the HKSF and they refused our application, because they think we have problems with our memorandum and our articles of federation. We now have to change some of the clauses, which we will do at our next annual general meeting, and then we will reapply accordingly," Chau said.
But the rival Kiteboarding Hong Kong Association (KHKA) says it is a member of the Hong Kong Windsurfing Association, which in turn is already affiliated with the HKSF. And they have plans to become a member of the HKSF, too.
"We are trying to approach the HKSF to become members. We are taking it step by step. We are already members of the windsurfing association and the next step is to go one further and become HKSF members," said Leung, who is also an official in charge of marketing with the KHKA, which was the first kiteboarding body formed in Hong Kong, four years ago.
"The Hong Kong Kiteboarding Federation may be members of the International Kiteboarding Association but that is of little use in Hong Kong. What matters is you must be a member of the Hong Kong Sailing Federation," he said.
To add confusion, there is a third body which also claims to be Hong Kong's sole representative - the Kiteboarding Association of Hong Kong - that is apparently run by one person purely on commercial grounds.
"Yes, we are all confused," agreed Chau, who insists his organisation is the official body for the sport.
Leung said: "It would be good if all parties came together and tried to solve this amicably. My main concern is to promote the sport in Hong Kong. But the problem is that everyone wants the name of their organisation to continue."