Government set to support HK football's new masterplan - but there's HK$210 million missing
HKFA hopeful government will continue funding after October, but picture for inaugural Premier League still not clear
Soccer's revival is set to take its next step forward with the government showing signs it will support the Hong Kong Football Association's (HKFA) new five-year plan, which will replace Project Phoenix in October.
However, there are concerns whether an estimated HK$210 million of additional funding over the next five years will be provided by the government, with a high-level source saying that even the current annual subsidy provided by Project Phoenix - HK$20 million - was not guaranteed.
The HKFA's next evolutionary stage was branded "clear and logical" by Home Affairs Bureau official Jonathan McKinley, a member of the government's Football Task Force, which has examined the latest proposal called "Aiming High Together".
The project includes a new professional Premier League next season, but it is already under threat because a number of cash-strapped clubs will not commit.
"Members [of the task force] recognised that the Hong Kong Football Association had made good progress with many of the Project Phoenix recommendations," said McKinley, deputy secretary for Home Affairs.
"And that the project had resulted in the association being on a far firmer footing with regard to administrative and financial governance and technical expertise.
"It was felt that the five-year strategy was clear and logical, and ... we will further discuss with the HKFA how the government might help the association to implement the strategy."
HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe, who was instrumental in setting up Project Phoenix and the main architect behind the five-year plan, hoped funding would be extended beyond October.
"We have not received official confirmation yet about a future funding commitment from the government, but the noises we are hearing are positive," he said.
"If it is five years, this will be a huge boost for football and vindication that Project Phoenix has had a positive impact, despite some of the problems we have encountered and some uninformed comments by some detractors."
A big stumbling block could be to what extent the government provides financial subsidy.
The HKFA estimates it needs around HK$210 million to bridge the deficit between income and expenditure over the next five years.
"This is over and above the money we are currently receiving from the government," Sutcliffe said.
"We are hoping to get some of this extra as an additional contribution from the government, some from charities - the Hong Kong Jockey Club - and some from commercial sources, that is, sponsorship.
"If we don't get that amount we will prioritise and deliver less of the strategic plan initiatives."
Project Phoenix had strident critics, including some First Division clubs who have complained at the lack of financial support in the plan's first three years.
"All the clubs are losing money, but what has the association done to help us?" said Philip Lee Fai-lap, director of BC Rangers, who are still undecided on whether to enter the Premier League.
So far only six clubs are likely starters: Kitchee, South China, Eastern Salon, Sun Pegasus, Yuen Long and Yokohama FC.
The HKFA, which says it needs at least eight teams to make the Premier League viable, said funding from Project Phoenix was mainly needed to set up the framework for a new administrative and technical set-up.
McKinley said: "The exceptional funding from HAB for Project Phoenix was limited and the commitment will come to an end once the current funding allocation is exhausted."