With almost HK$200 million in its coffers, the Mega Events Fund should be more supportive of deserving tournaments to help raise the profile of the city as a happening place for sports, arts and culture.
The Hong Kong Cricket Sixes is one such event that is deserving of financial help to stay alive. A tournament that has become well-known in the world of cricket, it has instant recognition among fans from Tamil Nadu, India, to Georgetown, Guyana.
We don't know how many tourists travel from the Caribbean to Hong Kong, but certainly these days there is a growing number arriving from India, where cricket is a religion. So when the Hong Kong Sixes is broadcast live on television across India, it helps raise the profile of the city hugely. The emerging Indian middle class, from Delhi to Calcutta, are now venturing overseas flush with cash. And watching a cricket tournament in a place alien but interesting will go a long way in making up their minds to call their travel agents and book flights.
Now one of the main targets of the Mega Events Fund, run by the Hong Kong Tourism Commission, must be to sell Hong Kong as a travel destination. So why has this body turned down the request for HK$10 million from the Hong Kong Cricket Association to host the popular Sixes?
It is an unfathomable decision that only a bureaucrat could make. All attempts to find out why the HKCA had been turned down ended unsuccessfully. A long and convoluted e-mail from Selina Lee, secretary for the MEF assessment committee, failed to shed light, other than to reveal that only two events had passed the second round of applications.
They are the 2013 Dragon Boat Festival, concluded last week, and the 2014 Dragon and Lion Dance Extravaganza on New Year's Day. I believe the latter comes under culture and the former under sports. They both received a total HK$6.75 million.
So for all intents and purposes, only one sports event has been approved since the MEF got its second lease of life in April 2012. Originally set up in 2009 to provide funds for "mega" events with a HK$100 million kitty, the fund had around HK$49 million left when its three-year term expired last year. The government then decided to extend this scheme for another five years and threw an extra HK$150 million into the pot.
All this money unused in the first instance is a crime. Now they are going down the same road again. Scrooge would cry in shame if he was compared to the MEF assessment committee.
Who is on this assessment committee? Well, let us share the names of those who sit on this august body. It is chaired by Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung and has as its members Chris Burke, Professor Frank Fu Hoo-kin, Wayne Leung Wai-yin, Dr Paul Liu Ngai-wing, Michael Hobson, Stephen Tan as well as ex-officio members, the deputy commissioner for tourism, deputy director of information services and the deputy secretary for home affairs.
It looks a very august body. But gentlemen, why can you not see the light? How can you not see that the Hong Kong Sixes is an international event that puts the city for one weekend of the year in the cricketing limelight?
Surely it is foolish to judge an event by attendance alone, especially when cricket does not have a venue large enough to host a sizeable number of fans. Shouldn't it be judged by the "hidden" reward of tourism - the capacity of an event to draw future fans and tourists to the city?
We don't know if this same group of people was in charge over the last term when almost half the funds went unspent. What is the point of being miserly when the raison d'etre of the MEF is to create events large enough to attract outside attention?
At a time when the Hong Kong Sixes is struggling to find a title sponsor, government funding is even more vital. If the HK$10 million had been forthcoming, it would have served to pay the appearance fees to net a number of big-name players both past and present.
The HKCA now says without MEF funding, the tournament is in danger of being called off this year. That would be a major blow. One year out of the international limelight will damage the event's reputation, which has been painstakingly built over the past two decades.
The MEF should have a rethink, and must back the tournament.