Soccer academy held up by cost concerns and red tape
Funds were originally set aside in 2003 but there is no completion date and 38 government departments to deal with before construction
A decade after funds were set aside for the long-overdue Tseung Kwan O soccer academy there is still no completion date and bureaucracy may even stall the start of construction on a landfill site for another year.
The construction cost has soared to more than HK$700 million from the original HK$103 million set aside by the Hong Kong Jockey Club in 2003, and there is little indication of when construction will actually begin.
Jockey Club chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges said some 38 government departments would be involved before construction could start on a 9.6-hectare landfill site in New Territories East.
"Building on landfill is a much more complicated issue and, from my recollections, there are 38 departments who have to be consulted," he said.
"In three to four weeks, we can sit together with the Hong Kong Football Association and the government's Home Affairs Bureau to map out the progress of the academy ... and I don't think you can expect the project to start within the next year."
He said the meeting would address the basic needs of the academy and whatever was decided could not be acted upon immediately.
Coupled with the construction hurdles, there were also concerns over the operational cost, said Engelbrecht-Bresges. The HKFA, which will manage the facility, would need to provide a sustainable model.
"The HKFA has to review their operational requirements," he said. "Sometimes we have to build things in steps and maybe a HK$600 million, HK$700 million or HK$800 million project will be very difficult as you need some HK$20 million to HK$40 million for operations. Maybe you have to scale it in phases to a manageable operational cost, so that you can't always rely on government grants.
"We want to support football, but we do have to be systematic. That's why we will ask for a phased approach. We think a smaller project in the beginning, as well as limiting your operational cost, is a good step to allow to expand it at a later stage."
Engelbrecht-Bresges also remained cautious about a new proposal by the HKFA of building four pitches as soon as possible - two artificial and two grass - as an interim solution.
"They threw this idea of temporary facilities and they can do what they think is for their best interests," he said. "If they think they can find a quicker solution, we would definitely not stand in the way … but we would prefer going through a systematic process and not jump into something where you really don't know in the end what it will cost."
HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said the project was progressing, albeit at a slower pace than they would like.
"It is a complicated development," he said. "Yes, there is a long way to go. But since this centre is vital to the future of soccer in Hong Kong, we will continue to work with the Jockey Club and the government to bring it to fruition no matter how long it takes."
The academy is a key recommendation of the government's "Dare to Dream" policy and was a high priority for the HKFA, Sutcliffe said.