Left Field: Pressure on Hong Kong team to bring home Asian Games gold

Government expects investment in athletes to reap rewards such as winning more medals at Incheon in September

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 July, 2014, 9:29pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 July, 2014, 12:05am

The magic number is eight. This is the crop of gold medals Hong Kong won at the Asian Games in Guangzhou four years ago. A lesser return from the Incheon Games starting in mid-September will be a failure.

We will be sending our largest contingent of more than 600 athletes and officials to South Korea, surpassing the 547-strong delegation in Guangzhou.

Bigger is hopefully better. More athletes mean more quality coming through the system, which is a good sign. That must be translated into winning medals.

Sport comes way down the ladder of importance in Hong Kong, too, but at least it is not totally ignored

Four years ago the total medal count was 40 - eight gold medals, 15 silver and 17 bronze. The Hong Kong Sports Institute is expected to provide the bedrock for success.

Hong Kong will be represented in 28 sports in Incheon and 15 are in the elite category at the Fo Tan academy. Those sports will carry the main weight of expectations.

Thirty-six of the 40 medals won in 2010 came from the Tier A elite sports at the Sports Institute - the other four were won in equestrianism, rugby sevens (now part of the elite programme), BMX and mountain biking. This proves money can produce results. And plenty of dosh is thrown at the Sports Institute.

This year, for instance, the HKSI received a massive HK$376 million government subvention, an increase of HK$51 million year on year. In addition, funds from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, as well as revenue from hiring out facilities, have boosted the academy's annual budget to HK$441 million.

These figures are magnified when it comes down to what is spent on the athletes themselves - HK$332 million.

There are 256 athletes training full time at the SI, meaning that on average about HK$1.3 million is spent on each annually. This is a simplistic way of looking at it, but on the whole it gives a fair picture of the financial resources going into winning a medal at an international event.

Over a four-year cycle, it is expected around HK$5 million will be spent on each athlete. Hong Kong is regarded with envy by most other countries, especially in Asia, where sport is not a top priority. Sport comes way down the ladder of importance in Hong Kong, too, but at least it is not totally ignored.

The government support is crucial and it has created this largesse by setting up the Elite Athletes Development Fund (EADF) in 2011 with a one-off grant of HK$7 billion.

The pressure is on the athletes to deliver now. A bigger delegation does not necessarily guarantee medal success. This is because we are sending more team sports. Basketball, soccer, water polo and volleyball, which were only represented by men's teams at the last Games, will also see their women's teams compete in Incheon. Other team sports to be represented include cricket, rugby sevens and handball.

Winning a medal in a team sport will be a long shot. The only realistic chance is in rugby sevens where Hong Kong won a silver in the men's competition in Guangzhou.

The women lost out in the bronze medal play-off to Thailand in controversial circumstances after the referee refused to allow what would have been a match-winning conversion to take place on the grounds of time-wasting.

The only other whiff of a chance might come in cricket where Hong Kong have made waves this year with the men's team. They qualified for the ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh in March and made headlines around the world when they beat the hosts in a historic result.

But in all likelihood the onus of winning medals will once again fall on the shoulders of individuals like cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze.

With the Olympic Council of Asia now following Olympic guidelines and requiring athletes to have the passport of the country they represent - in Hong Kong's case an SAR passport - if they wish to take part at the Asian Games, a number of top athletes have been left out, making it even harder to achieve medal success. We will have to overcome all these obstacles.

Hong Kong returned from Guangzhou four years ago with their best medal haul at an Asian Games, and continuing a progression up the graph of success.

We have to show that we are more than capable of holding our own in Asia, for the real target is the Olympics.