Left Field: 2023 Asian Games look out of reach for Hong Kong

Back-door deal means Dubai will likely win the vote, leaving Hong Kong to look much further into the future to host showpiece

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 4:09am

Many of the bigwigs on the Olympic Council of Asia executive board - 37 to be exact - didn't return home straight after the end of the 31st general assembly in Macau. Instead, they made a detour through Nansha in Guangzhou, where they attended the extended wedding nuptials yesterday of former China diving queen Guo Jingjing and Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, eldest son of Hong Kong Olympic chief Timothy Fok Tsun-ting.

It would have offered Tim Fok an excellent opportunity to canvas for the views of his peers - there are 14 vice-presidents on the OCA - on the possibility of Hong Kong hosting the 2023 Asian Games.

The late patriarch and billionaire Henry Fok Ying-tung transformed Nansha into a family fiefdom and the Nansha Grand Hotel is just one of the many properties the Foks own in Guangzhou. It was here that the top officials of the OCA - all, like Fok, presidents of their respective national Olympic committees - were royally wined, dined and housed.

The chance to press the flesh in the shadow of the celebrity wedding and push for a Hong Kong 2023 Asian Games would have been ideal if not for one spanner in the works - Dubai's decision to pull out of the 2019 race, which was decided this week with Hanoi winning the vote.

Dubai, Hanoi and Surabaya were the three candidates for 2019. But on the eve of the general assembly, OCA president Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah let it slip that only two bids - the Vietnamese capital and Indonesia's second-largest city - remained.

Just before the 44-strong electoral college (there are 45 countries and territories in Asia, but India failed to turn up) began to vote, Sheikh Ahmad confirmed Dubai's withdrawal. He said: "They will bid in the future".

Hanoi, despite a poor final presentation, went on to beat Surabaya, prompting many observers to believe that the race had been decided before it began. If you watched Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator, there is a scene where he runs the 100 metres while shooting competitors ahead of him and with the finish tape being brought to him. That scene gives you an idea of how "fixed" the 2019 Asian Games vote might have been.

It seemed everyone knew beforehand that Hanoi would win, even the Indonesian delegation, one of whom admitted that the result was a foregone conclusion. Hanoi clinched the 2019 Games due to the backing of its government, which had underwritten the budget.

A senior official of the Hanoi bid delegation revealed that while the city would spend "hundreds of millions of dollars" on sports facilities, it would spend "billions of dollars" on infrastructure like highways and bridges that would transform the capital into a modern city. The "Hanoi 2020" vision of the government dovetailed with the 2019 Games, which would be used as a coming out party for the city.

With the government signing on the dotted line and committed to make the 2019 Games a success, it was indeed a foregone conclusion. Canny Dubai knew this and decided to withdraw its candidacy, which points to the possibility that they will get the subsequent showpiece in 2023.

Another factor pointing to that conclusion is that East Asia (Guangzhou 2010, Incheon 2014) and South East Asia (Hanoi 2019) will have held three successive Games and that the preference would be for West Asia for 2023. Enter Dubai.

The United Arab Emirates is an attractive contender. Dubai could share the Games with other cities in the confederation like Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. All these cities already have the facilities in place. Dubai's Sports City can easily accommodate many of the 36 sports at an Asian Games - the 28 Summer Olympic sports, four regional sports and four sports that the OCA feels should be included.

Horse trading goes on at all these big elections. In this case, it looks as if Dubai holds pole position for 2023. Tim Fok would probably have been aware of this and it is more than likely he will not press for another bid from Hong Kong.

It's a shame. By 2023, we should have our new sports hub ready. But it seems Hong Kong is destined to be only the financial capital of Asia. Not a sports capital. We have had a marriage made in heaven this week - a tycoon's son and China's diving diva - and perhaps it will be up to Kenneth Fok, who is a member of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee, to one day realise the ambitions his dad and granddad had of bringing the Games here.