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Shanghai racing ahead of Hong Kong

Mainland's economic powerhouse isn't just eating our lunch when it comes to business, sports-wise we're miles behind

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 3:00pm

Superman has spoken and his words bode ill for Hong Kong. Li Ka-shing, fondly portrayed as the comic-book hero by locals, has warned Hong Kong is set to be eclipsed by Shanghai soon as a happening place - that is if we don't act fast and pull our fingers out.

The Cheung Kong boss was talking specifically of the outcome of the central government's plans for a free-trade zone in Shanghai. When it happens, Li believes Shanghai can dull the shine of Hong Kong, and that it will have "a bigger and quicker impact" than many expect.

The bottom line is that Asia's richest man believes we should be worried about being number two to Shanghai. We won't get into a debate about the economic fallout facing our city but focus instead on the facts that concern sports - we are already trailing Shanghai.

Now that Superman has spoken, let’s hope those in the corridors of power will sit up and take notice

For a city to be truly world class, it must not only be a place where one can work and make money freely but also a place where residents can enjoy art, culture and sport. Hong Kong is a culinary capital of the world and it boasts a lot of self-made millionaires. Li, with US$25 billion to his name, leads the billionaires' list. But if we are right up there on the food and dough front, it is not the case when it comes to other worldly pleasures.

We cannot hold a candle to the sporting extravagance cities like London and New York boast. These are truly world-class cities. But our government is quick to emphasise the fact - or rather fantasy - that we are Asia's world city.

Let's consider what we can offer sports fans in comparison to Shanghai. The latter has any number of world events, from Formula One racing to the HSBC Champions golf tournament, which later this year returns to the city with US$7 million prize money on offer. It has an ATP Masters 1000 tournament, which attracts the world's top players like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It boasts a Diamond League athletics competition and a snooker Masters where the world's leading personalities in both sports appear. It is a stop for a leg of the FIA World Touring Car Championship.

These are only a few of the international events Shanghai has. There are many others, from archery and darts world cups to basketball, volleyball and a marathon.

In return, what can Hong Kong boast of? Its only world-class event is the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens. The marathon might be offering more prize money next February - up to US$300,000 - but it continues to shoot itself in the foot by the failure of the government to support a new, runner-friendly route.

Our much-vaunted golf tournament, the second-oldest in Asia, had to be salvaged by the Hong Kong Golf Club, which was looking to earn brownie points in the face of fears that its land will be lost to property developers. But its prize fund has been slashed by US$700,000 to US$1.3 million, making it less attractive. Like the golf, the Cricket Sixes failed to drum up private sponsorship and its bid for government funds was knocked down by the Mega Events Fund twice. We will have to wait until next September for international tennis to return, and that only a small WTA tournament.

No prizes for guessing which city is the bigger sporting draw. We are a backwater, no two words about it. And what is sad is that our deluded decision makers think we are the pride and joy of Asia.

Now that Superman has spoken, let's hope all those delusional people in the corridors of power will sit up and take notice that something extra-special must be done to make Hong Kong the focal point of all eyes. And one of the best ways to do that is to bid for the 2023 Asian Games, something which will refocus attention back on this city.

Hanoi will host the 2019 Games with the city for the subsequent one in 2023 to be decided in 2016 by the Olympic Council of Asia. Yes, we made a half-hearted bid for the 2006 Games and then pulled out of making a bid for the 2019 event after the Legislative Council's Finance Committee rejected the budget submitted by the government.

It is time for a re-think, especially in light of Superman's Kryptonite warning about Shanghai. We need something special to reignite the dynamism of this city and an international multi-sport games will fit the bill. The central government wants Shanghai to be one of the world's top three financial centres on par with New York and London. But at least on the sporting front we should put up a fight.