Bureaucrats at sixes and sevens

Those running the Mega Events Fund have done HK a huge disfavour by rejecting help for city's popular cricket tournament

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 September, 2013, 3:51am

First it was tennis - the Hong Kong Classic - and now the cricket Sixes. Hong Kong is rapidly turning into a sporting desert. The much-touted Mega Events Fund, which was supposed to transform this city into a sporting paradise, has instead become a harbinger of doom. Both the tennis and cricket tournaments were supported by the MEF, but now they have been shunned.

If from the outset they had been turned down, then one could say both events were fundamentally flawed and failed to meet the criteria for funding. But tennis received funding twice and cricket once, in 2011, and now they have been cast aside.

Trying to fathom the reasoning behind these decisions is all but pointless. It would take a sage with the wisdom of a Solomon to unravel the reasons behind the rejections of a committee of bureaucrats.

Even misers would realise it is best to part with some money when the very core of your existence is threatened

Despite ticking all of the main boxes, the Hong Kong Sixes was twice turned down this year. Okay, maybe asking for HK$10 million was a tad too ambitious but when told to come back with a reduced plea - and this by a senior official at the MEF - one might have thought the tournament would get funding. But a revamped bid for HK$5 million was also shot down, despite the Sixes meeting all the objectives of the fund, mainly to raise the profile of the city internationally, promote it as an events capital of Asia and boost tourism.

When you think that the MEF has nearly HK$200 million in its coffers, it's ridiculous that an application for less than 3 per cent of the total sum available would be rejected. Previously, we had labelled the assessment committee of the MEF, which comes under the government's Tourism Commission, as a bunch of misers. We were wrong, for even misers would realise it is best to part with some money when the very core of your existence is threatened. And the decision by the Hong Kong Cricket Association to cancel the Sixes next month raises the question of the validity of the MEF's continued existence.

Created in 2009 as a conduit to channel funds from the government to enterprises that could showcase the city as a happening place, the MEF failed miserably. When its initial three-year term ended, it still had almost half the HK$100 million of the original fund unspent. The government then added another HK$150 million last year for a five-year period.

So far, little of it has been spent. It seems more time is spent on looking for flaws in applications and knocking them back than encouraging entrepreneurs to start something new.

If Hong Kong were to be turned into a sporting Mecca, then new ideas should be fostered and encouraged. Yet the initial premise that only non-profit organisations could apply for funds ruined any appetite among those with an entrepreneurial bent. Even successful applicants couldn't show any profit on their balance sheets, for it would have been whisked away by the MEF.

There was no incentive for success. Not that the Sixes wasn't a success, far from it. Maybe the tournament might not have met one of the requirements - to bring in 10,000 people - but in terms of international recognition, this fun-fest at the Kowloon Cricket Club did heaps to raise Hong Kong's profile in the cricketing world.

Started in 1992, the Sixes has become a brand. If you go to India or the West Indies, people have heard of and watched the Sixes, most on television and some who have travelled here especially for the tournament. The world's best cricketers have taken part, from Shane Warne and Wasim Akram to Brian Lara and MS Dhoni. For players from all the test-playing nations, winning the Cup meant a great deal.

For our own cricketers, the event offered the chance to rub shoulders with the stars and more often than not Hong Kong grabbed the chance gleefully to put one over on their more illustrious opponents. None of this will happen this year, thanks to the myopic views of the MEF.

Sadly, there were no private benefactors willing to take up the slack and with the HKCA unwilling to gamble its own limited funds, the tournament has been canned. Let's hope out of sight does not necessarily translate into out of mind. But in today's crowded cricketing world this is the risk Hong Kong is facing, no thanks to the MEF.