M-Mark shows MEF the way

Hong Kong doesn't need any more visitors, so why not merge the two government funds to support sport properly?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 February, 2014, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 February, 2014, 9:29pm

Now that the boot is on the other foot, it is time for the Mega Events Fund to have another look at the core reason for its existence. A government report has predicted Hong Kong could receive 70 million tourists annually within three years with numbers rising to 100 million in a decade. As it is, Causeway Bay is overcrowded. You cannot move without bumping into a wide-eyed family from Shandong province.

Do we need more visitors? Already the government is panicking. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung is worried about the congestion on the MTR if 100 million tourists hit town. He must be kidding.Try taking the MTR during peak time. It is already congested. Another 30 million or so mainlanders would make a sardine in a tin feel comfortable.

It is absurd the Mega Events Fund (MEF) insists it will only support events that can bring visitors, with the ballpark figure being 10,000. We have more than enough visitors. Have the folks at the MEF got brain damage? Perhaps the Tourism Commission should just knock on the door of poor panic-stricken Greg So.

The M-Mark doesn't have a huge pile of cash to play with, but at least they do their job of disseminating funds

It must only be a few doors away, for doesn't the Tourism Commission also come under the portfolio of So and his bureau? Knock, knock, who's there - only another million tourists. It is patently absurd that a fund which is supposed to develop sporting events should base their marks on bums on seats.

It would be better for the MEF to look at the bigger picture. For instance, how the event could help a sports association promote and develop its sport, in the way the Hong Kong Sevens has helped the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union turn rugby into a household sport today. Raising the profile of this city is passé. Hong Kong doesn't have to rely on sport to do that.

In this respect, hats off to the other government-backed fund handled by the Sports Commission's Major Sports Events Committee - the M-Mark - which has 14 events under its care. They don't have a huge pile of cash to play with, but at least they do their job of disseminating funds unlike the MEF misers.

From the Cricket Sixes to the Hong Kong Squash Open, the M-Mark has spread its largesse over a period of three years. And there was good news last week when the government said it was considering increasing the amount made available to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the M-Mark scheme.

While there is nothing but goodwill and gratitude from the sporting community for the M-Mark, it is not the same as far as the MEF is concerned.

From day one this fund has been embroiled in confusion and controversy. The convoluted assessment has been made worse by the fact only half the money is handed over initially, with the rest paid up once the event is over and deemed a success. It has left aspiring applicants worried if they should risk taking a loan to make up for the shortfall of 50 per cent of the funds.

Maybe it is time to do away with the MEF. After all, if its raison d'etre was to attract visitors, that no longer holds water. That would bring smiles to the faces of many, including organisers of the Cricket Sixes, Hong Kong Golf Open and the Hong Kong Masters (show jumping) who have all been shunned.

The MEF hasn't been doing its job properly in the past year or more, having only backed two sporting events - a lion dance and dragon boat racing - and this despite having nearly HK$200 million in its coffers.

The failure to support events proves the whole scheme is flawed. Only allowing non-profit organisations from applying is another flaw. This goes against the very grain of what makes Hong Kong tick. Instead of encouraging free enterprise, the MEF with its moribund rules has become outdated. And the recent report that the streets of Hong Kong will become an even tighter squeeze only makes it more obsolete.

Let's merge the two funds into one. What better way to celebrate the M-Mark's 10th anniversary than by marrying it to a fund going nowhere. In this way sporting events would have more funds made available and with a better chance of getting them. The M-Mark is there to make every event in town like a Hong Kong Sevens, said a government official.

Now wouldn't that be something.