Gymnastics and triathlon at risk of losing millions in funding

Two disciplines have 24 months to improve results at international level to keep financing

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 March, 2013, 5:18am

Gymnastics and triathlon face the loss of millions of dollars of support unless athletes improve their performances at international level.

With the next funding cycle for the 15 elite disciplines at the Sports Institute starting next month, gymnastics and triathlon have two years left to meet the criteria.

A funding cycle lasts for four years with a review at the halfway mark. If a sport fails to make the benchmark in the review, like gymnastics and triathlon, they receive a two-year grace period. Even though Hong Kong gymnasts made their debut appearance at the Olympics in London last summer through Shek Wai-hung and Angel Wong Hiu-yin, the sport was 0.5 points short of the 9.0 benchmark in the review. Triathlon achieved only six points.

The other 13 sports - athletics, badminton, cycling, fencing, karatedo, rowing, squash, swimming, table tennis, tenpin bowling, windsurfing, wushu and billiards - all made the benchmark. A new discipline, rugby sevens, will be included in the elite programme for the first time, becoming the only team sport to gain elite status.

Under the elite programme, each sport gains access to a wide range of support, including world-class coaching staff, use of facilities, local and overseas training, and competition and full technical support. Athletes can also receive a maximum elite training grant of HK$32,000 monthly.

"Our gymnasts did very well at senior level during the past two years, but it is our junior performance that has hampered us," said Cheung Siu-yin, chairman of the Hong Kong Gymnastics Association. "We were very close, but we must work harder as the next two years will be critical.

"We spent a huge amount of effort, and used a lot of money from our pockets to regain elite status. We don't want to see it end after just four years."

We spent a huge amount of effort, and used a lot of money from our pockets to regain elite status. We don't want to see it end after just four years

Gymnastics was one of the residential sports when the institute opened in the late 1970s, but was shown the door in 1999 for a lack of performance. It returned to the Sha Tin base in 2011.

Cheung blamed a lack of junior competitions at Asian level as the main reason for their failure. "We need to win medals at the Asian junior championships in order to meet the requirements, but this event is held every two years. If we miss this chance, we are almost out," she said.

"We have been trying to host similar levels of competition in Hong Kong for our young gymnasts to make the standard, but there is no venue in the city that can host an official regional gymnastics competition. Not even the Coliseum in Hung Hom or the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wan Chai have sufficient space. It is a pity."

While gymnastics lacks junior results, triathlon is suffering from the lack of achievement from its senior athletes following the retirement of Daniel Lee Chi-wo.

Lee twice helped the sport maintain its elite status thanks to his efforts at the last two Asian Games, including winning a silver medal in Doha in 2006.

"The sport faces a daunting task, but if the athletes can perform in forthcoming events such as the National Games, the Asian championships and the Asian Games in the next two years, there is still a chance to save the sport," said Lee, who retired after the Guangzhou Asian Games and is a Chinese University lecturer.

"But it is not easy. Triathlon is a very difficult sport which requires extremely hard training before getting results. Many of the athletes quit halfway and in Hong Kong many potential triathletes who achieve at junior level prefer to study rather than committing to long-term training."