Coach Rene Appel calls for review of entry for Sports Institute

The Dutchman who engineered Lee Lai-shan's Olympic windsurfing gold in 1996 says the method of deciding which sports receive support must be upgraded

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 11:45pm
UPDATED : Friday, 25 October, 2013, 11:52pm

Rene Appel, the only coach to produce an Olympic gold medallist in Hong Kong, has called for a rethink of the government's athlete support system at the Sports Institute as a new era for high-performance sports began on Friday with the official opening of an HK$1.8 billion elite academy.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who declared the state-of-the-art facilities at Fo Tan "a source of great pride", hoped it would produce more champions such as Lee Lai-shan (windsurfing gold medallist at the 1996 Olympics) and Sarah Lee Wai-sze (cycling bronze medallist at the 2012 Olympics).

But Appel questioned if the system was engineered towards producing medallists.

He was critical of the elite vote-scoring system used to not only judge new sports trying to get a foot in the door, but also to decide if a sport should continue to receive support once in the elite institute.

"We need to have another look to see if it is fair to everyone. When it was first put in place it was a good development but we have moved on and I believe we should address if the scoring system is fair and productive," Appel said. "It was a good stepping stone to where we are now but perhaps we should see if it is fair to judge everyone by the same points system."

Appel is not the only senior coach to call for change. Last month, cycling head coach Shen Jinkang also took a swipe at the government's support system, which he said only rewarded medallists in major competitions. This came after Hong Kong failed to medal in the men's individual road race at the National Games in Shenyang - the first time there has not been a local rider on the podium since their debut in 1997.

"We don't have a big enough pool of riders because our support system is not working well," Shen said. "The current system only rewards medallists at major competitions, but can you tell me how many medallists are in one race? It's only three. To win an event like the road race, it's not just the hard work and effort of the champion. The support of his five teammates is pivotal."

Appel said the authorities should look beyond podium finishes and delve deeper into what makes a champion.

"Every sport has different requirements. What we have today [at the HKSI] is superb. In terms of facilities we have come a long way and are among the best in the world, something which we could only dream of in the past. But now we have to look at other facets of the system, too," he said.

A number of sports have been critical of the entry-level requirements, which are set by the Hong Kong government

The HKSI has no control over which sport, or athletes, gain entry into the hi-tech facility, which houses 16 elite sports, with rugby sevens being the only team sport in the set-up.

"We are only the government's delivery agent of elite sports training systems. The scoring system is set by the government through its Sports Commission," said HKSI chief executive Trisha Leahy.

A number of other sports trying to break into the institute have also been critical of the qualifying requirements.

The Hong Kong Football Association says it is unfair to measure soccer on medal success alone simply because the standards in Asia were so high for a body struggling to find its feet. It has also said team sports cannot be gauged like individual sports.

"In Olympic swimming for instance, there are 34 different events which means 102 medals are on offer. In football, there is only the men's and women's events which translate into six medals, which means our chances are smaller," said HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe.

Tennis, too, has slammed the elite vote-scoring system, saying standards are higher in Asia than in some other sports.

While sympathetic towards the needs of all sports, Home Affairs deputy secretary Jonathan McKinley, who is represented on the Sports Commission, said: "We have to have some sort of a yardstick and cannot let everyone into the HKSI otherwise it will no longer be an elite sports academy."