Project Phoenix needs more funding, urges HKFA chief Mark Sutcliffe

HKFA chief says government must increase spending on project to HK$100 million annually for it to bear fruit and become a big success

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2014, 10:08pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 10:36am

Hong Kong Football Association chief Mark Sutcliffe has launched a staunch defence of the much criticised Project Phoenix and urged the government not only to continue its financial support for the sport, but also to increase funding.

Sutcliffe says 22 of Project Phoenix's 33 recommendations have been completed and more cash is needed if these seeds are to bear fruit.

Without continued government support, football in Hong Kong may wither on the vine
Mark Sutcliffe

"If Hong Kong football wants to improve and build on the foundation laid by Project Phoenix, it actually needs more resources, not less," said Sutcliffe.

Sutcliffe in a 12-page position statement "The Phoenix is Rising" insists the HKFA has "transformed itself" and is now in the process of "transforming the sport".

"Without continued government support, football in Hong Kong may wither on the vine and that would be disappointing considering the significant progress that has been made. It is important for football that this process not only continues but that it gathers momentum," Sutcliffe said.

The government's three-year Project Phoenix programme comes to a close at the end of October. It has committed HK$60 million with an annual payout of HK$20 million. The government will decide in the next few months whether to continue its support.

It is believed the relevant people in the government are happy with the progress made. In its new five-year plan, the HKFA wants government funding increased to HK$100 million annually.

Project Phoenix got off to a stuttering start in November 2011.

The first HKFA chief executive under the initiative, Gordon McKie, lasted only six months, resulting in Sutcliffe taking over the reins in September 2012. Sutcliffe argues the project has really only been in full swing for just over a year. Reacting to criticism from First Division clubs that they haven't benefitted financially, Sutcliffe said: "The majority of the money was always intended for additional headcount. It was not for football development neither was it envisaged the money would be given directly to the clubs because they are commercial entities and can't be directly funded from taxpayers' money.

"We have completed 22 of the 33 recommendations and made good progress on the others - the project is 80 per cent completed and this is not bad going considering the slow start.

"Many of the completed recommendations relate to 'internal' changes that fall below the public radar ... [while] some of the incomplete recommendations are important and high profile such as the new Premier League and the football training centre [at Tseung Kwan O] where more work has to be done and where implementation is also outside the control of the HKFA and where we need the co-operation of other parties."

"There are difficult challenges to address and it is impossible to transform a sport overnight. But it is an undeniable fact that we have more players at all levels and playing more frequently and at a higher standard.

"This alone should convince people that this initiative is working.

"We know people want to see tangible results. But it takes time to change the culture of a sport as well as its structures and systems. ... other countries that have embarked on a football transformation process have taken 10 years to reap the benefits."