Hong Kong must embrace professionalism to move forward, says top swimmer

Geoff Cheah says time has come for governing body to change its approach

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 August, 2014, 1:38am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 August, 2014, 1:38am

Top local swimmer Geoff Cheah says local success has come about more by accident than design and that the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association must step into the 21st century and embrace professionalism.

Asian Games-bound Cheah, holder of 10 Hong Kong records including the men's 100 metres freestyle, said the volunteer-run governing body is holding back the development of the sport.

It is quite amazing the level of swimming we have achieved already, but this has simply been by accident or chance and not because of the system
Geoff Cheah

"For swimming in Hong Kong to improve we need to really improve the structure of our organisation. It is quite amazing the level of swimming we have achieved already, but this has simply been by accident or chance and not because of the system," Cheah said.

"I'm thankful for the volunteers for giving their time to the sport and we wouldn't be here without them. But if the sport is to develop and reach the highest level, we have to make changes to the current level of management and organisation."

While Hong Kong have won medals at Asian Games and junior world championships, no local swimmer has ever reached an Olympic final, let alone won a medal.

Siobhan Haughey, 16, won two silver medals at the Youth Olympics this month and looks to have genuine elite potential. But Cheah warns that she and other talents will be held back by the current system.

Cheah, 23, is bidding to become the first male swimmer to medal at an Asian Games, and also hopes to qualify and then reach the final in his pet events the 100 metres and 50 metres freestyle at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Although he is a full-time athlete at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, he is based in the United States, believing it is more conducive to his development.

"Many of our best swimmers, definitely those going to the Asian Games [in Incheon this month] are hoping that the association can improve the level of swimming in Hong Kong by creating the right structure, by taking on full-time employees dedicated to evolving the 'Amateur Swimming Association' into 'Hong Kong Swimming' and running it like a business geared towards producing sporting success," Cheah said.

"The question we have to ask is: do we want to reach the highest levels in the sport? I have dreams and I'm sure so do many other swimmers and we need to sit down with the association, brainstorm and see how we can progress. In the past no one has raised this subject which has been taboo, but if progress is to be made, we need to have this conversation."

HKASA secretary-general David Chiu Chin-hung defended his organisation's set up.

"Geoff can express his views but I don't agree that our body can be run like a business model. If we do that, a lot of swimmers will be pushed aside because we will be result-driven. Our existing model is better as it gives everyone a chance.

"Our bedrock has been the clubs and we cater for everyone. If you are good enough, then you move on to the Hong Kong Sports Institute which looks after elite training."