PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 12:57am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 12:57am

Left Field: For the Hong Kong Sixes, the end seems nigh

Second successive cancellation of popular international cricket tournament in city points to possibly irreversible collapse


Alvin Sallay was a Sunday columnist with the paper for more than 10 years and reported on the Hong Kong sports scene for the last 25 years. Through his columns he covered four Olympic Games and one soccer World Cup. A long-time Asia expert, he has also been to seven consecutive Asian Games.

Quo vadis, the Hong Kong Sixes? The question will be on the lips of every fan after organisers cancelled the popular tournament for the second straight year.

Unwilling to risk the high possibility of losing money, the Hong Kong Cricket Association decided last week to pull the plug on an event, which had brought much kudos and publicity to the city.

For more than two decades, the Hong Kong Sixes has held its own on the public psyche, both at home as well as abroad.

The Sixes does not have a facility capable of drawing more than a couple of thousand fans. The market economics work against it

HKCA chairman Mike Walsh has laid the blame for this tournament not going ahead in November squarely on the government's Mega Events Fund.

The MEF, a body which has been ridiculed by lawmakers, turned down the Hong Kong Sixes on at least four occasions, and without its financial support finding a private sponsor proved doubly hard.

The MEF was slammed by the Legislative Council in May for allegedly hiding key information. When applying for a second tranche of HK$150 million in 2012 from Legco's Finance Committee, the MEF chose not to mention that the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) had suggested some two years previously that the fund hand back all unused funds and cease operating.

All organisers needed for the Sixes to go ahead was HK$3.5 million or HK$4 million.

Considering the amount in the MEF kitty - it had more than HK$150 million, as a large amount of the initial deposit used to set up the fund in 2009 (HK$100 million) had been unspent - it is a travesty that this relative pittance was not forthcoming.

With the corporate sector being more tight-fisted than Scrooge these days, it was inevitable that the HKCA decided to shelve the tournament again. According to Walsh, it was better to cancel than to use the association's limited financial resources and run the risk of bankruptcy.

Walsh said: "Fiscal prudence is essential and we cannot lose sight of the fact that our first priority is to provide for our members and for the sport, and its growth as a whole both locally and within China wherever we are able to help."

Despite its popularity, the tournament in recent years has struggled to sell tickets. This has placed further stress on the organisers to see the event break even.

In the past, when the Sixes had two blue-chip sponsors like Cathay Pacific and Standard Chartered, the total sponsorship was around HK$6 million, allowing the event to put up a healthy prize purse with the winner taking home US$100,000.

In the good old days, organisers (not the HKCA, but a private concern) even paid appearance fees to attract the world's best. We have had everyone from Wasim Akram to Sanath Jayasuriya turning up.

But with the tournament deciding to get the backing of the ICC in recent years and thus getting the various cricket boards onside, the big-name players dwindled with teams being made up of the up-and-coming generation.

Yet we saw the likes of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and David Warner emerge here before they hit the big time, and for the cricket lover, the event was as popular as ever.

The HKCA hoped it would turn into a Hong Kong Sevens, and become the goose that laid the golden eggs for local cricket.

The Hong Kong Sevens provided the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union with the means to push the game forward aggressively. The union has spent - and is continuing to spend - hundreds of millions of dollars on building pitch facilities for its growing membership. All this is possible because of the profits from the Sevens.

Cricket's bid to follow in the same footsteps, has unfortunately, been blocked by the absence of support from the government and private sector. Walsh decries this "lack of will".

But this is the harsh reality the sport faces. Unlike the Sevens, the Sixes does not have a facility capable of drawing more than a couple of thousand fans. The market economics work against it.

Even though the HKCA has in recent years flogged the idea that the tournament is seen by millions on the sub-continent, this has not been enough to draw the attention of a major sponsor.

The only hope was the government chipping in, but that avenue, too, was closed.

Quo vadis, the Hong Kong Sixes indeed.


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