HKTA holds all the aces in tennis row
But fight with exhibition organiser over alleged missing payments is bad for everyone who wants to see a quality event
Only in Hong Kong: tennis matches in a velodrome. That was the headline in this paper last week for the news that the 2014 BNP Paribas Showdown would be played at the Tseung Kwan O velodrome. Our sub-editors got it right, aptly conveying the sense of surprise.
The fact that the organisers, Star Games, have been forced to use a venue purpose-built for track cycling is an indictment on many fronts, starting with Hong Kong itself for failing to have enough facilities capable of hosting an international event featuring three former grand slam champions.
While the lack of facilities is an ever-present issue, the other, bigger problem is the fact that organisers were forced to go hunting for another venue because of an ongoing battle with the governing body of tennis in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Tennis Association, over payments from last year.
Whether they like it or not, Star Games has to deal with the HKTA if they wish to get all the ancillary support to run the March 3 event, part of the International Tennis Federation's World Tennis Day. This support includes ball boys and girls, match officials and umpires. Can they do without them?
Will Li Na, Sam Stosur, Lleyton Hewitt and Tomas Berdych - the four stars on show - be forced to pick up their own balls and rule their own line calls? Unless the organisers fly in officials and ball boys from outside Hong Kong, this could well be the scenario.
All this is because the HKTA claims it has not received a promised sanction fee of US$40,000 from the inaugural event held last year at AsiaWorld-Expo.
Star Games president Jerry Solomon insists that is a matter for the ITF. "We don't owe them [any sanction fee]," said Solomon. "That has nothing to do with us and is something between the ITF and HKTA and I think they worked that all out."
Think again: the HKTA's president, Herbert Chow Siu-lung, says otherwise: "The ITF says their late payment to us was due to a late payment from Star Games. Well, we still haven't received our US$40,000, which is for last year."
The HKTA is now playing hardball and has said that unless the outstanding payment is received, the Showdown will not get any support from them.
"Once [and if] the ITF settles the bill, we will sit down with Jerry Solomon and find out what support he wants. If we have the manpower, we will support the sponsor BNP. Unlike last year where they [ITF & Jerry Solomon] received our HKTA staff support for free, this time we will give them a quotation for services rendered," says Chow.
The HKTA has asked for HK$1 million, but Chow is almost certain that the organisers will not agree to that.
This bodes ill for the one-day event, which already has been forced to scale its expectations back because the velodrome is limited in size and can only cope with around 3,000 spectators, that with 1,000 bums on temporary seats.
The bigger venues in town suitable for tennis were unavailable, one due to circumstances - the AsiaWorld-Expo was previously booked - and another by choice, with the HKTA unwilling to share the centre court at Victoria Park, which on March 3 will host a junior tournament.
As far as we can see, the HKTA holds all the aces. It would be foolish for the organisers to try to go it alone.
Meanwhile, this entire hullabaloo brings in focus the need for an overall body to be in charge of sports . We have one disgruntled governing body refusing to share its facilities while another goes ahead and provides the same facility. The Hong Kong Cycling Association or the government should have asked the HKTA in the first instance why organisers of a tennis event were knocking on their door.
By allowing the velodrome to be used - hopefully the temporary seating will not affect the newly laid track - they have undermined the HKTA. All sports associations should work as one for the betterment of local sport overall. They should back each other and if one feels they have been badly treated by an outside agency then everyone should support the cause. In this case, ranks have been broken.
The public want to see big-name players in action. Li Na fits the bill. But she shouldn't turn up at the cost of the HKTA losing out. Let's hope common sense prevails, the money is paid, and all parties agree to a reasonable payment for this year's event.