2014 a pressure test for all

With the Asian Games in South Korea this year, the city's athletes have a lot to prove but so, too, do our miserly bureaucrats

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 9:41pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 9:57pm

There are more significant days in the year, like your own birth dates or religious holidays like Christmas or Eid, but the dawn of a new year always brings with it a surge of hope and expectation as we eagerly look forward to our lives taking a change for the better. So it is with the birth of 2014 - and we hope and pray it will be a better year than its tumultuous predecessor, which left local sport battered and bruised.

It will be significant because it is an Asian Games year. In September, South Korea will host the second-biggest multisports Games in the world (next to the Olympics) and Hong Kong's athletes will face a stringent test in Incheon.

This is the first major Games since the multimillion-dollar refurbishment of the Hong Kong Sports Institute and all eyes, especially those of the government, will be on the athletes to see if all this money - HK$1.8 billion - was well spent in providing a world-class elite academy.

While the 2016 Olympics will be the true test, the Incheon Asian Games will give an early benchmark for administrators to gauge how each of the 16 elite sports within the SI are faring. Not all of them are Olympic sports - squash and wushu being a couple of examples - and as such the Asian Games is a more appropriate report card to judge the progress of each sport in the system.

The benchmark will be to better the previous tally of medals achieved at the Guangzhou Games four years ago, when Hong Kong returned home with a record haul of 40 medals - eight gold, 15 silver and 17 bronze.

The Asian Games will give an early benchmark for administrators to guage how each of the elite sports within the Sports Institute are faring

It is not going to be easy. Four of the eight gold medals were won in cycling, two in cue sports (snooker) with windsurfing and wushu winning the other two.

Cue sports have been dropped from the roster, leaving Hong Kong on the back foot straightaway. The retirement of cycling icon Wong Kam-po, who won a gold (road race) and silver medal, also leaves a huge hole to fill.

Wong, 40, retired in November 2012 but made a surprising return last summer when he took part in the China National Games as cycling tried to win a medal in the road race. But the presence of the former King of the Road failed to lift the fortunes of the men's team.

Stung by that ill-conceived return from retirement, it is unlikely that Wong will be back to defend his road race crown in Incheon and it will be left to the younger brigade to carry the torch. Thankfully, youngster Kwok Ho-ting has had a change of heart and decided not to retire prematurely. He will lead cycling's charge as it attempts to emulate the success of Guangzhou.

The failure by cycling to win a medal medal in the road race at the National Games last year gives an inkling of how tough the competition will be in Incheon. It will be the same right across the board and the target of winning 40 or more medals will be a stiff test.

Every sport at the SI will be under pressure. Medal-winning performances will be the key indicator in the battle to win more funds and resources.

If great expectations are placed on the athletes and their sports in 2014, so will it be on the government, too, as we look forward to positive developments on the most important aspect for the future - the building of the Kai Tak sports complex. Let's hope the dawn of the new year will usher in a more constructive approach from the powers-that-be and they get their act together, even at this late stage.

In April, Singapore will cut the ribbon on their brand new sports hub. You can only imagine how much of an impact this state-of-the-art stadium - which can reconfigure itself and cater to all sports from cricket and rugby to athletics and football - will have on the region.

Meanwhile, we are still in the talking stage, trying to decide what the best way forward is. What is needed is action, not talk.

This same shift in thinking is also needed from the people holding the purse strings - the Mega Events Fund. In 2013, we hardly had a mega event to boast of with these misers reluctant to fund events that would have lifted the city's profile.

A new year always brings with it fresh hope. We place faith in God that our lives will improve. It is not long before all those expectations gradually seep away as our lot remains the same. Let's hope that will not be the case this time.