Cash-strapped district clubs thrown a lifeline to take part in Premier League
Government says struggling teams, who want to compete in new season in September, could be given up to HK$3 million
Financially strapped district clubs were on Monday given a lifeline by the government to participate in the inaugural Premier League with the prospect of increased public funding to HK$3 million.
Yuen Long, Tai Po and Wong Tai Sin all had their begging bowls out when they met the Home Affairs Bureau yesterday, three weeks after another district team, Southern, pulled out of the top-tier competition citing financial difficulties.
"We were told by the Home Affairs secretary the government is in full support of district clubs and promises assistance in all areas, including the financial side," said Wilson Wong Wai-shun, chairman of Yuen Long and a member of the board of directors at the Hong Kong Football Association.
"The government's attitude is very important, not only because of the monetary support but also the positive message it sends to our commercial partners as we seek more sponsorship."
The new Premier League, due to kick off in September, is a major component of the government's Phoenix Project to revive the game, but only nine teams have applied for the professional licence, including the three district clubs.
Tai Po and Wong Tai Sin earned promotion from the Second Division after finishing first and second respectively.
The Football Association has targeted a minimum of eight teams to start the new league.
The government had already guaranteed HK$1 million to support each district club, but it is estimated HK$5 million to HK$6 million is needed for survival, let alone mounting a serious challenge on the league and other competitions.
Wong said they would now re-examine their budget, factoring in increased government support of between HK$2 million and HK$3 million.
"We will have to discuss among ourselves [district clubs] how to identify more areas for government support and then submit these to the authorities," said Wong.
"The government will then pass this to their Football Task Force for discussion because it involves the use of public money.
"It will also have to take into account public views and the rules of Fifa and the Asian Football Confederation regarding direct government funding to individual clubs."
According to current practice, the government's HK$1 million funding cannot be used for offsetting player salaries, but Wong Tai Sin district council vice-chairman Matthew Wong Kam-chiu hoped this could be changed to give them more flexibility.
"We understand the government is willing to discuss this matter, which means they are keen to help us solve the problems," said Wong.
Meanwhile, Sun Pegasus have secured coach and long-time Hong Kong resident Jose Ricardo Rambo from BC Rangers, replacing Chan Chi-hong, who has been promoted to team director.
Pegasus have splashed out more of their HK$15 million budget on six new players - Hong Kong international Lee Hong-lim (from South China), midfielder Ip Chung-long (Southern) and goalkeeper Tse Tak-him, defenders Baise Festus and Sham Kwok-fai, and forward Sham Kwok-keung (all Citizen).