Soccer centre should be shared

Much-delayed Tseung Kwan O training facility has to make money to surviveand rugby union can make that happen

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 2013, 8:40am

The contentious issue as to how a new national soccer training centre at Tseung Kwan O would be financially run once it is built has at last been resolved with the government agreeing to underwrite the costs for 10 years. It is a shame such an arrangement couldn't have been agreed right from the outset when the idea of a home for football was originally mooted - it would have saved hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yes, it is true it is the Hong Kong Jockey Club which will be footing the bill for construction of the facility. Yet it is a crying shame this bill has inflated from the HK$103 million when the blueprint was first drawn up 10 years ago to today's estimated cost of between HK$600 million and HK$750 million. Even taking inflation into account, this is a huge increase and money that could have been put to other use by the Jockey Club's Charities Trust.

When it comes to the Jockey Club, everyone is quite blasé about money. It is assumed that the institution is a goldmine and it can afford the costs even though they have ballooned. It is a sin to take this attitude.

Now that the government has belatedly got involved, the entire scheme can be cranked up and Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak believes the facility can be ready by 2016 if final approval is received from the Jockey Club, which has only agreed in principle to covering construction costs. It hasn't yet gone into detail about the long-awaited and much-touted facility, although the HKFA envisages a state-of-the-art modern academy with enough pitches to accommodate not only the national team, but at least four other clubs in the envisaged professional First Division.

Eight standard-sized pitches are on the drawing board for the landfill site with other support facilities, including a players' hostel. Once this is complete, soccer will have no need to clamour for entry into the Hong Kong Sports Institute, the elite academy that every sporting association aspires to. But all the above facilities are only ideas proposed by the HKFA. The Jockey Club will this week once again examine the entire proposal.

Even with the government's assurance it will foot the bill for operating costs, the Jockey Club might still have some final doubts as to the viability of the HKFA running the show without plunging into the red. The Jockey Club already has some bad examples of how sporting associations muddle things up once they have been given goodies on a platter.

The cycling association was gifted a BMX Park in Gin Drinkers' Bay by the Jockey Club, but once the effects and euphoria of getting a superb facility for free had worn off, reality struck home and the association found it could not afford to run it. It incurred HK$6 million in losses over three years, forcing the closure of the park for a period.

Sometimes a gift can become a millstone around your neck. Life is full of such examples. Your long-lost relative leaves you a mansion after he/she dies, and after the initial glee, you realise that maintaining the massive edifice will set you on the road to bankruptcy. It is such worries that have delayed the building of the national training centre as the Jockey Club wasn't happy with the business plan put forward by the HKFA.

The only thing that has changed now is the government has offered to help. Nothing more. The same people run the HKFA. Is this enough to convince the Jockey Club to pump in this enormous amount of money? The answer will be yes, but instead of only allowing local soccer free rein at Tseung Kwan O, wouldn't it be better for them to share the facility with the only governing body which can also use the facility and is capable of running a tight ship - the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU).

The HKRFU has a proven track record. Its multi-sports facility at King's Park is a shining example. Softball and soccer are also beneficiaries of the infrastructure totally built by rugby. The HKRFU would love to be able to use the Tseung Kwan O facility. The government funding will heavily depend on how many business ventures the centre can generate with the focus being on overseas clubs using it as a training camp.

If this is the crux of the business plan, it is doomed to fail. It would be far better to share the venue with rugby. In this way you not only help another sport, but the HKFA can be assured its home of soccer will not fall into disuse. The Jockey Club should consider this.