Passport reprieve lets selected Hong Kong athletes take part in Asian Games
In a one-off decision, Olympic Council of Asia grants special permission for 14 men and women to compete in Incheon, South Korea despite not having SAR passports
Fourteen Hong Kong athletes have been given dispensation by the Olympic Council of Asia to take part in the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, despite not holding an SAR passport.
In a one-off approval, the OCA has granted permission for the 14 to take part in September's multi-sport extravaganza on the grounds that they had each taken part in the previous Games, four years ago in Guangzhou.
The OCA is now following Olympic rules of eligibility which require athletes to hold a passport of the country they wish to represent.
The 14 comprise six from cricket (Jamie Atkinson, Waqas Barkat, Aizaz Khan, Roy Lamsam, and women cricketers Mariko Aota Hill and Ishitaa Gidwani), four from rugby (Anthony Haynes, Jamie Hood, Keith Robertson and Lindsay Varty), two from cycling (Meng Zhaojuan and Diao Xiaojuan) and one each from equestrianism (Aram Gregory) and soccer (Xu Deshuai).
"This is excellent news and we are delighted that all four of the men are available for selection, while the two women are among our best players," said Mike Walsh, chairman of the Hong Kong Cricket Association.
Cricket will be boosted with both the captain, Atkinson, and vice-captain, Barkat, getting the nod.
"We will keep pushing for our players to get SAR passports but the fact that players who took part last time in Guangzhou will get the chance of playing in the Asian Games again is very good for the game," said Walsh.
Hong Kong rugby officials also heaved a sigh of relief with Hood, captain of the sevens team, being given the green light.
"While we are happy that the others also got approved, we are especially pleased about Jamie for although he was born in Hong Kong, he still has to wait another 18 months before he becomes a permanent resident and gets the ID card, and as such he couldn't apply for an SAR passport," said Dai Rees, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union's head of technical development and performance.
Rees added: "All the others have applied for SAR passports and we will continue to push for our players to take the local passport.
"We are grateful to the Hong Kong Olympic Committee for pushing our case as well as that of the other sports."
The decision did not please all, however.
Hong Kong Cycling Association chairman Leung Hung-tak expressed great disappointment, saying their medal hopes in the women's team pursuit had been ruined after only two of their four cyclists were given the green light.
"We have formed a quality team with a gold medal in Incheon our target," said Leung. "But now both Yang Qianyu and Pang Yao will not be eligible, which means we cannot enter a strong team. We have replacements but they are not up to the same standard."
Former mainlanders Yang and Pang came to Hong Kong three years ago. "We will try to persuade the two to stay in the team, but nothing can be guaranteed,” Leung said.
Diao and Meng are expected to form the backbone of the pursuit team, while Diao also has a good chance in the omnium. Sprinter Meng could form a strong partnership with Sarah Lee Wai-sze in the team sprint as well.
The Hong Kong team are in Astana, Kazakhstan, preparing for the Asian Championships which start on Thursday.