HKFA chief Mark Sutcliffe admits Premier League may be put on backburner again

New HKFA chief executive admits plan might not be in place in time for next season

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2012, 2:31am

Hong Kong's proposed new Premier League may be put off for another season, new HK Football Association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe revealed as he chaired his first board meeting yesterday.

Project Phoenix, the government initiative to revive local soccer, planned for the Premier League to be in place this season, but that didn't materialise following the sudden departure of Sutcliffe's predecessor Gordon McKie in May.

The First Division clubs have agreed to start the new 12-team professional league next season, but Sutcliffe revealed it may have to be postponed again.

"There is a long way to go and we need discussions with the First Division clubs over the next couple of weeks to get their views if this is achievable to do it in one season," said the new boss, who took office this week.

"Project Phoenix is the blueprint that we need to work towards as it has been approved by the board and government funding is based on it. But we also need to be flexible enough to change direction as long as there is the board approval for that change and there is a reason for it."

The new boss emphasised that his priority remained to strengthen the professional game, but did not want to commit himself at the moment.

"A professional league must be based on financial soundness and it's going to work with a combination of commercial sponsorship and government funding.

"We won't expect the government to be paying for the players' salary but it is legitimate to get funding in areas such as making sure each club has their youth academy in place, conducting proper coach education, development of players' welfare and proper facilities."

Just last week, defending champions Kitchee complained of poor pitch conditions at their home at Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground and Sutcliffe agreed it was an important area he would look into.

"It is important if you are having a good quality professional league, they need to play on good and proper surfaces," said the chief. "They need to have good services and support facilities to make sure the soccer league can comply with AFC requirements which are quite specific in terms of quality of the ground and its support services."

His other "inter-related" priorities include the establishment of the national training academy, improving the performance of the national team, strengthening the HKFA as an organisation and the football development paths.

Meanwhile, Kitchee and South China will jointly host the forthcoming Lunar New Year tournament which was organised by South China over the last two seasons.