The Rational Ref

Paying Hong Kong soccer players a bonus if they win is good

Paying players more if they perform well is fine. But purer motivations should be driving force, not mercenary ones

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 March, 2013, 3:36am

A sense of pride, passion and pleasure should be paramount for any sportsperson when representing their country or region. Of course, being paid to do well helps.

This is why tonight, players representing Hong Kong's senior team are apparently reinvigorated and motivated to perform well, with an enticing new "carrot" dangling in the form of a revitalised incentive scheme.

Previously, the Hong Kong Football Association awarded players an uninspiring bonus of HK$1,000 for a win and HK$500 for a draw - no matter whom they played. With the new scheme, which takes in to account the type of match played plus the Fifa ranking points gained for the match, players tonight can expect to each receive HK$4,210 for a win and HK$1,400 for a draw.

These figures are unique for the game against Vietnam, who are ranked 22 places higher than Hong Kong.

The idea behind this scheme arose after last month's unexpected goalless draw away against Uzbekistan before the Lunar New Year. The HKFA board of directors, perhaps primed subconsciously to be in a generous mood after preparing their Lai See packets for family and friends, realised HK$500 did not reflect the enormity of the senior team's performance against the Uzbeks who, with a Fifa ranking of 57, were 99 places above Hong Kong.

Brian Leung Hung-tak, chairman of the HKFA, said: "The new system will be applied retrospectively to the Uzbekistan match and we hope that this will serve as a motivating factor for the next game." So players receive HK$3,096 for their performance against Uzbekistan and can look forward to even more should they win tonight at Mongkok Stadium.

But are sliding-scale performance-based bonus schemes the best way to motivate soccer players?

There is no straightforward answer to this question, and much depends on how mercenary mindsets are managed. Generally, getting paid to perform creates a mercenary mindset that can ultimately bring out the best in people, and the worst.

From the perspective of match officials, the mercenary mindset induced by performance-based bonuses is troublesome. This is because match officials everywhere - not just in the big leagues - are the ones who experience up close and personal the nasty win-at-all-costs attitude. It can manifest itself deeply, with some players and coaches obstinately refusing to accept refereeing decisions that go against them and offloading plenty of vile abuse when they finally do.

That is the ugly downside of performance-based bonuses, particularly when players resort to unsporting and unethical behaviour in a desperate attempt to avoid losing their match. In addition to instilling good ethics and sporting behaviour, the real challenge in motivating players requires striking a healthy balance between reward, desire and performance.

Nevertheless the HKFA is to be commended for introducing a modernised performance-based bonus, which, hopefully, will have a positive influence on players that goes together with their pride in representing Hong Kong. Getting the mix right is crucial in helping to encourage players who are selected for the Hong Kong national team.

Furthermore, the HFKA needs to iron out the difficulties with clubs, some of whom are opposed to releasing their players for national duties for fear of overtraining and injury. Despite the recent tussle between Kitchee and the HKFA, acting head coach Kim Pan-gon has so far done a wonderful job with the limited time and resources he has had available. We should remember that this "club versus country" debate occurs all over the world, with Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand the most recent to be embroiled in the debate after he pulled out of the England squad.

It is a good thing that match officials never have to worry about financial incentives. That's because there aren't any.

If players, coaches, commentators and fans have not worked it out by now, match officials are not in it for the money. It explains why most referees have full-time jobs outside of officiating, unless they happen to be among the small group of referees who are full-time professionals, such as those at the EPL. So what keeps the vast majority of the world's estimated 5 million amateur referees motivated?

There are reasons why referees tolerate all the negative stuff that comes with the role.

For Rational Ref, it comes back to experiencing the pride, passion and pleasure of being part of "The Beautiful Game".

This feeling is similar to that felt by any amateur player who just loves to play and does not care about financial reward. They play for the sheer enjoyment of being involved - no matter how big or small their role. Almost every week Rational Ref sees this enjoyment played out among most amateur players in Hong Kong.

This type of untainted motivation should be present in professional players, too, and ideally should always be more important than the performance-based carrot dangled in front of them.