Leung steps in to steady things in Hong Kong cycling

Success in competition is not always evidence of a well-oiled machine, new HKCA chairman finds

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 February, 2013, 4:00am

For a sport that's enjoyed so much success in recent times, including Sarah Lee Wai-sze's Olympic bronze medal in London last year, news of in-fighting and turmoil within the Hong Kong Cycling Association may come as a surprise. But that is exactly what Leung Hung-tak, the association's new chairman, has inherited after being elected to the post last month.

The latest bombshell to hit cycling - the two-year global ban on Steven Wong, the 2010 BMX Asian Games champion, for doping - is one of many messes Leung has been tasked to clean up.

But before he deals with the fallout from Wong's case, Leung is determined to put the association's house in order. Three key members of the association - president Herman Hu Shao-ming, chairman Leung Sik-wah and general secretary Fred Chan Chun-hung - resigned last month, leaving the sport's governing body rudderless. Leung Hung-tak was persuaded to stand for office and was elected chairman unopposed.

"This is going to be a massive challenge for me because Leung Sik-wah and Fred Chan have been running the association for more than two decades," the new chairman said. "However, I am confident that with the support of the cycling community, we can move this sport forward."

Indeed, the association could not have found a better person to run the organisation than Leung Hung-tak, a former champion cyclist who was also captain of the Hong Kong team in the late 1980s.

"It's rare for a former elite athlete to become the head of his sport's national governing body," said Leung, who led Hong Kong to a fifth-place finish at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games, which was also his last international race.

"We all know cycling has achieved some very good results in recent years, but within the association all has not been well. That's why we need someone who knows the sport to lead the association forward. I have built up some very good relationships with different sections of the cycling community over the years and I will work closely with them to ensure we build on our recent successes."

The association's executive committee and coaching staff have been at loggerheads for almost three years, so much so that in 2011 head coach Shen Jinkang was banned from speaking to the media.

In replying to an e-mail from the South China Morning Post that year asking how the team's training was going for the Tour of Qinghai Lake on the mainland, Shen said: "I cannot comment on my riders, whether it is about their performance in races or their current situation. I can only send out the results when the race finishes. This is the instruction of the cycling association."

Leung hopes his appointment can help heal the damage. "Shen and I know each other well," he said. "I have worked with him on a number of occasions after I retired from competition.

"A close relationship between the head coach and the association is crucial when it comes to matters involving training and competing overseas. I also want to act as a bridge between the athletes and the association so that we can better understand their needs."

Leung wants to introduce changes to the association's structure so it is more transparent. "We are planning to register the association as a limited-liability company so it can be more accountable to our members and the public," Leung said. "To do that, we need to be financially healthy and have a proper structure that conforms to company law.

"We have already taken the first step towards that by bringing new faces into the executive committee. They are all well-trained professionals in areas such as finance, law and medicine."

The association's new vice-chairman is an accountant, while the three new deputy general secretaries comprise a lawyer, a sports medicine expert and a financial planner.

"If everything goes according to plan, the association will become a registered company by the end of the year," Leung said. "By that time, we can further strengthen our working relationships with different sectors including the government, so we can build on our momentum to push the sport forward."

Another urgent matter for Leung to deal with is the operation of the International BMX Park in Kwai Chung. At the association's annual general meeting last month, a group of disgruntled riders staged a protest, saying the park was being mismanaged.

The venue, at Gin Drinkers' Bay, is the first of its kind in Hong Kong with an international-standard track and was built with a HK$20 million grant from the Hong Kong Jockey Club for hosting the BMX event at the 2009 East Asian Games.

The venue was handed over to the cycling association at the completion of the Games without any government subvention for its operations.

Over the past three years, the association has spent HK$7 million running the park, but with income of just HK$1 million over this period, the association decided to close the venue last month before reopening it two weeks later because of complaints. However, the venue is now open for just three days a week instead of the previous six.

"The new executive committee will not close the park despite the financial difficulties," Leung promised. "However, we need to cut the running costs and at the same time raise additional funding."

The park brought glory for Hong Kong at the East Asian Games when home rider Steven Wong won a gold medal. However, Wong, who switched to professional road racing in 2011, has now hit the newspaper headlines again, but for the wrong reasons.

The 24-year-old tested positive for anabolic steroids last April when riding for his team Champion System. He was subsequently banned for two years by the International Cycling Union (UCI). The case, however, was not made public until last month.

Leung admits the case serves a warning to all riders. "But Wong is young and once he has served his ban, we should consider giving him a second chance.

"If you want to succeed, you have to work hard and there is no shortcut, no fast track. Many of the riders in Hong Kong come from lower-income families. [Former Olympian] Wong Kam-po was raised in Sha Tin, Sarah Lee is from Ngau Tau Kok and I was brought up in Shek Lei. We may come from poor backgrounds but we treasure the opportunities cycling has given us. I hope more youngsters can realise the same dream as us."