Tseung Kwan O soccer academy gets HKFA nod

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 December, 2012, 2:47am

The long-awaited Tseung Kwan O academy has received a boost after plans were approved by the Hong Kong Football Association board and the government soccer task force.

With the submission of a viable financial plan to the Hong Kong Jockey Club early next year, chief executive of the association Mark Sutcliffe expected construction work on the project to begin as early as March 2014, before the first phase of the academy opens 18 months later.

"The Jockey Club will fund the capital for construction, while the operating costs of the academy can be offset by its income and a subsidy from other sources," said Sutcliffe.

"The club manages a lot of big capital projects and we will work with them to draw up the specification to make sure of the right quality, and layout and design of the academy."

It is believed taxpayers will have to pay the initial subsidy until the academy can break even.

"I think it is a working understanding that the government will provide the initial subsidy, but it won't be for long, as I envisage the academy can break even after five years," said Sutcliffe. "The operating costs are fairly fixed, such as staff costs, maintenance costs, utility costs, while the income can be fairly high. It is a question of how to create demand to raise income."

The club approved a budget of HK$103 million when the academy - to be built on a 9.6-hectare landfill site in New Territories East - was first proposed in 2003. But construction never started as talks with the HKFA dragged on. The Jockey Club is willing to press ahead as it also plans to build a riding school adjacent to the soccer academy, but it requires the HKFA to produce a viable business plan on how it will be run. This has been the main stumbling block.

This summer, Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges warned that the project would now cost around HK$500 million.

Sutcliffe said the club was still working on the facility and looking at the best mix of grass and synthetic pitches. "There are two aspects to decide - one on the high-performance side, which is exclusively for professional soccer, and there is a community facility, which is going to open for everybody's use. We have to find the right balance," he said.