Codes joins forces over training centre

Delay over academy prompts talks between Hong Kong soccer and rugby officials on interim site that would offer four pitches, two of them artificial

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 10:24pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 10:24pm

The Hong Kong Football Association is set to join up with the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union and the government to start work on an interim version of the proposed National Football Training Centre at Tseung Kwan O.

The Hong Kong national team and First Division clubs will have to continue sharing facilities with the public next season because the Tseung Kwan O facility continues to be delayed as a Hong Kong Jockey Club-commissioned consultancy study to prepare a master plan for the site remains unfinished.

HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said the centre would not be ready for the start of the new professional league in September. The delay has forced soccer to consider involving the HKRFU, which could get use of pitches at the new facility.

We wanted this facility to be ready by now but that's not going to happen and we will have to be pragmatic
HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe

The plan is for four pitches - two artificial, two grass - to be built on the site as soon as possible, but Sutcliffe said even this interim solution may not be sorted out for next season. The final plan for the training centre has eight pitches, plus residential quarters and other facilities.

"We wanted this facility to be ready by now but that's not going to happen and we will have to be pragmatic," said Sutcliffe. "We are now talking to the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union and the government and plans are progressing, but no agreements have been reached and no time frame is in place.

"Our need for pitches is desperate so we hope it will be ready as soon as possible. I think [the interim centre] is more likely to be ready for 2015-16."

Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Jonathan McKinley said: "We are keen that football gets a new home and we will go ahead and back this joint plan by the HKFA and the HKRFU in the interim, and until the Jockey Club comes on board."

HKRFU chief executive Vern Reid confirmed talks were continuing with the HKFA.

"We have had an informal discussion with HKFA about Tseung Kwan O," Reid said. "What needs to be identified is what is the opportunity for an additional pitch or pitches at the site and if we did join together in this project with the HKFA how would we do that. In essence, we do have a need for pitches, and we have begun to look at what this land might offer us if it became available."

The soccer academy was first mooted in 2003, when it was estimated it would cost HK$103 million. With construction costs soaring, it is now estimated that costs for the full facility would be in excess of HK$750 million, something which only the Jockey Club can afford.

"If the [Jockey Club's] main scheme goes ahead it will incorporate phase one, in other words the design of phase one will be future-proofed. The training centre itself might include an element of sharing with rugby but the grass pitches will be exclusively for football," Sutcliffe said.

The HKFA had hoped the new facility would be ready by 2015 to coincide with the start of its new professional league so it could become the base for four First Division clubs who do not have permanent training facilities, as well as the national side.

Sutcliffe stressed it was important for the HKFA to claim the Tseung Kwan O site for soccer now that the government wants to use former landfills for recreation and community facilities.