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Left Field: The time for excuses from Hong Kong athletes is over

With a new state-of-the-art training facility almost completed, city's athletes must give us reason to celebrate in 2013 and beyond

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 December, 2012, 4:58am

The Mobot and Gangnam Style have been two of the lasting memories for me on the sporting field this past year - Mo Farah at the London Olympics and Chris Gayle during the final of the ICC World T20 in Colombo.

These recollections bring with them differing sentiments. In London, it was pure joy to watch the Ethiopian-born Farah complete the unique double - 10,000 metres and 5,000 metres - cheered on by thousands of his British compatriots. It was one of the most poignant moments at the 2012 Olympics. A few weeks later, it was heartbreaking to watch West Indian master-blaster Gayle wreak havoc on the Sri Lankans, not with his batting but bowling, and then do it Gangnam Style, as he celebrated taking the scalps of his victims.

Celebrations are part and parcel of sport. Unfortunately for Hong Kong, there have been few landmark moments in 2012. At the Olympics, we only had cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze's bronze medal to make a song and dance about. Other than that, it was meagre takings for the 42-strong squad of athletes competing in 13 sports. But the building blocks for 2016 were put in place in London with more than half the squad being under the age of 25, and with the promise of reaping rewards in Rio de Janeiro when Hong Kong makes its 16th Olympic appearance.

The 2012 Olympics also signaled the end of an illustrious career - cycling king Wong Kam-po who was taking part in his fifth Summer Games, the most by a local athlete. Wong, 39, had celebrated on many occasions at the Asian level, winning a clutch of medals at his pet event, the road race, but the Olympics was a bridge too far as he finished 37th.

Despite the solitary medal success, Hong Kong officials hailed the performance of the squad as a success. When you consider that Hong Kong finished 79th out of 202 countries, they could be justified in making such claims. It was also pointed out that the training environment for the athletes had been less than desirable, mainly due to the Hong Kong Sports Institute being unavailable for a large part of the four-year run-up to the Games.

All those excuses are past their sell-by date now. For Rio 2016, the athletes will be given the best possible conditions to hone their skills. The HK$1.8 billion redevelopment of the Hong Kong Sports Institute is almost complete and the 15 elite sports will have all the time to prepare in what will be one of the finest training facilities in Asia, if not the world.

A new sport is set to join the elite family in April - rugby sevens. Rugby has been one of the success stories in Hong Kong this past 12 months, especially the abbreviated code. For the first time in the history of the local game, Hong Kong were crowned Asian sevens champions, unseating perennial powerhouses Japan, by winning the HSBC Asian Sevens Series. This followed on from the silver medal successes at the 2010 Asian Games and the 2009 East Asian Games, which earned rugby a place at the Sports Institute.

If rugby is on an upward trend, the same, sadly, cannot be said of the other team sport that it has supplanted at the institute - soccer. The Hong Kong Football Association has been mired in controversy for most of the past year. This resulted in the high-profile resignations of two top officials, the chief executive Gordon McKie and national coach Ernie Merrick.

McKie left after six months in the job and Merrick, the man he had hired to transform the fate of the national team, departed with just nine months on the clock. Both departures were full of controversy with McKie admitting that he was pushed over the edge after "discovering that my recommendations were going to be blocked".

He was pointing the finger at certain board members with strong links to the top clubs and charged them with standing in the way of change, the fundamental reason why he and Merrick had been brought in in the first place - to implement the recommendations made by Project Phoenix.

McKie's replacement, Mark Sutcliffe, climbs mountains as a hobby. He faces an Everest of a challenge in 2013 as he tries to change an archaic system where the old order is so entrenched that they see any change as a challenge to their authority. Sutcliffe will need all the nimble footwork of a Gangnam artist if he is to orchestrate the game's climb back into grace. It makes for an interesting 12 months ahead.