A battle is won, but a war is lost
HK Olympic officials deserve credit for gaining Asian Games eligibility for 14 athletes, but the outcome still rankles
Few things are more satisfying than watching an athlete or team win a medal at a multi-sports event like the Olympics, or more realistically in Hong Kong's case, the Asian Games. Perhaps a close second is when an athlete hears he or she has qualified to compete at the event, heralding a realisation of dreams.
That was the case this week when 14 Hong Kong athletes discovered they would be going to Incheon, South Korea, in September for the 17th edition of the Asian Games, which, in terms of numbers of athletes, is second only to the Olympic Games.
Jamie Atkinson, captain of the Hong Kong cricket team, echoed widespread delight when saying it was a great relief to find out he had been given special dispensation by the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) to compete, despite not carrying a Hong Kong SAR passport. The OCA had initially insisted all athletes had to hold a passport for the country they wished to represent, in line with International Olympic Committee rules.
"It would have been a real shame to miss out, particularly after having had a good experience at the last one in 2010 [Guangzhou]. Being able to stay in the athletes' village surrounded by athletes from all over Asia is an opportunity you don't get very often," says Atkinson, who, although born in Hong Kong, holds a British passport.
The Hong Kong Olympic Committee successfully argued that if an athlete had taken part in a previous Asian Games, they should be allowed to go to Incheon, even though the eligibility goal posts had been moved.
Kudos to our Olympic committee for carrying the case of cricket (Atkinson, Waqas Barkat, Aizaz Khan, Roy Lamsam, and women cricketers Mariko Aota Hill and Ishitaa Gidwani), rugby sevens (Anthony Haynes, Jamie Hood, Keith Robertson and Lindsay Varty from the women's team), cycling (Meng Zhaojuan and Diao Xiaojuan), equestrianism (Aram Gregory), and soccer (Xu Deshuai).
This is a huge boost, especially for the two team sports, whose strength would have been devastated if these players hadn't received the greenlight.
Atkinson is a wicketkeeper and No. 3 batsman. Barkat, is vice-captain, and also another top order bat, while Aizaz Khan is an up-and-coming fast bowler.
In rugby sevens, the inclusion of Jamie Hood and Keith Robertson, both lynchpins, are crucial to Hong Kong's plans to go one better than the Guangzhou Games and target the gold medal.
Our officials also argued Hong Kong should be treated as a special case due to it being a complex multi-racial community, and this struck a chord with the OCA.
Like Atkinson, most of the 14 were born in Hong Kong and on that basis alone should have been making the trip to the Asian Games. This time we have got through this relatively unscathed - some sports like cycling were still unhappy as a few other cyclists failed to get the green light (they hadn't taken part in Guangzhou 2010) - but this is the last time such a dispensation will be granted.
In future, any athlete, even if he or she was born in Hong Kong, will not be able to take part in this event or at an Olympics if they don't hold an SAR passport. This would be a huge shame and indicates that even if we might have won this battle, the war has been lost.
While credit must be given to our Olympic Committee officials for fighting for these athletes, in the long run it would have been better if they had also presented a case for the OCA to accept Hong Kong-born athletes as they once used to do, before adopting Olympic passport-only guidelines.
Passports can be easily acquired, in some cases even bought, but a birth certificate is solid evidence of ties to a country. Perhaps it is time for the OCA to take another look at this contentious issue, with Hong Kong as a case study.
Economic migration has resulted in many people uprooting themselves in an attempt to find greener pastures. If they choose to have children in their adopted countries, they shouldn't be penalised if they want to represent their new homes at an Asian Games or Olympics. Getting a passport is easy in some places, and not so in others - read Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Olympic Committee deserves a bronze medal for getting these 14 through. They would have won gold if they had also managed to swing the day for Hong Kong-born athletes.