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Hong Kong tennis deserves chance to qualify for elite status at SI

HKTA is eager to gain tier A rating at the Sports Institute, but Olympic Committee decisions are hurting its chances

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 5:29am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 5:29am

When you are on the edge, you tend to take desperate measures. The move by the Hong Kong Tennis Association to  publicly accuse the Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of unfair  treatment with regard to team selection for the East Asian Games in Tianjin, shows just how frustrated the HKTA is as  it struggles to find a way back into the Sports Institute as an elite  discipline.

The HKTA said it had been "victimised" by the Olympic Committee, which had turned down an application to field a full-strength men's and women's squad in Tianjin. It  is unusual for the HKTA, which  for the past decade has been trying to get back into the elite academy and secure multi-million dollar funding from the government, to use such strong words in public.

Tennis does get some funding from the SI under its tier B programme - HK$1.5 million. But the HKTA wants tier A status, which at a minimum would be worth HK$5 million annually. To get this,  it has to achieve a minimum number of points on the SI's elite voting scheme, which basically is a report card where sports are assessed every two years.

The East Asian Games (which concluded on Tuesday)  was crucial to the HKTA's bid as it was an event where invaluable points could be earned, with even a bronze medal counting for three. Tennis knows  its best chance would have come in the team events - in the individual stakes, countries like Japan, South Korea and China are far ahead - and had hoped to field a strong women's squad. It was turned down.

The SF&OC initially knocked back the entire women's squad with its selection committee deciding that only two men should represent the city in tennis.

Anyone with a feel for the local game would know that the gap in men's tennis between Hong Kong and the top guns in Asia is bigger than in the women's game. Hong Kong stood a better chance of progressing in the women's team event than in the men's.

So it was strike  one for the association. After the HKTA appealed, it was then approved that only two women would go - strike two.  Zhang Ling and Tiffany Wu Ho-ching had their hands full playing singles as well as doubles - the team event comprises two singles matches and a doubles - in three ties. They beat Mongolia 3-0, lost 2-1 to Taiwan  and then, in the bronze-medal match against South Korea, lost 2-1 again. 

Zhang won all her singles matches. Wu was the weak link, and failed to combine with Zhang in the doubles, too. According to the coach, she was "clearly exhausted and in a rut". A third player  would have given Hong Kong the chance to rotate the doubles team, just as the Koreans did.

Angry and frustrated at missing an opportunity to win valuable points for the SI report card, the HKTA has now taken a swipe at the  SF&OC. Our sympathies are with tennis. Hong Kong was represented by 304 athletes in 23 sports in Tianjin. Of these 23 sports, 12 came back with medals, the others failed - baseball, basketball, dragon boating,  soccer, gymnastics, hockey, judo, shooting, tennis, volleyball and weightlifting.

When you consider that from the 11 failures, six were team sports, it is hard to  understand why the SF&OC denied the modest request by the HKTA to add two more women to its squad. 

Many sports in the past have criticised the Sports Institute's scoring system as not having a level playing field. They say it is a case of apples and oranges, where every sport cannot be measured on just the one scale.

But as Herbert Chow Siu-lung, a member of the HKTA executive committee, said: "We don't want to be cry babies, instead we want to work harder, go out there and try and win some medals".

Tennis must be given every opportunity to achieve  its targets and if  the association felt the best chance was in the team event and that  it needed a full-strength squad of four players, it should have been given that chance. Questions could have been raised later, if they had failed.

This is not the first time tennis has fallen foul of the selection process. Earlier this year, the association faced a similar situation at the World University Games, another event where SI points could have been won.

Frustrated with the system, tennis has hit out. But it is too late - strike three.