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Can Hong Kong sports lovers expect much from CY Leung's policy address?

Chief Executive's annual address has, in the past, been woefully inadequate in terms of providing assurances for our athletes - but there are signs of improvement

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 January, 2016, 9:10pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 January, 2016, 3:54pm

Finally that time again, when Hong Kong grinds to a halt for the some of the most rousing oratory since Cicero, the Chief Executive’s Policy Address.

On Wednesday, the beloved Leung Chun-ying will outline his vision for Asia’s World City in 2016, with the sporting community among those on tenterhooks to see what revolutionary proposals are in store.

What can we fans and participants expect? On past experience, not a lot – though there were some signs over the last year that the government might have woken up to the importance of sport.

The average word count of sentences – sometimes whole paragraphs – on sport is 133.8 recurring, around 0.65 per cent

Of the 18 addresses archived on the government’s website, the average word count for each is 17,518. The average word count of sentences – sometimes whole paragraphs – on sport is 133.8 recurring, around 0.65 per cent.

That seems a fair measure of the appreciation shown by Hong Kong’s government of sport and its benefits to communities – though in fairness, recent addresses have been a little better.

A perusal of the archives by dint of the <CTRL-F 'sport'> technique – any attempt to read every word of all 18 would have led to irrecoverable coma – provides a potted history of sport’s near non-existent place in the government’s consciousness.

Here’s Tung Chee-hwa in 1999, promising a new sports stadium (how much closer are we to that by the way? Well, it’s only been 17 years).

In 2000, Tung bigged-up plans to bid for the 2006 Asian Games (we won 6 votes out of 41). And we were reassured that “plans are also in hand to begin constructing quality sports facilities”.

For the next three years, Tung’s addresses were brief, and he devoted a total of eight words to sport from 2003 to 2005 – “we will actively promote the development of sports” was the visionary plan in its entirety.

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s addresses saw a slight improvement, with something approaching proper plans regarding funding for the Sports Institute, notions of building a stadium at Kai Tak (it’s only been nine years, etc), and excitement about hosting the East Asian Games in 2009.

(Although his 2007-08 address was mostly about the ominous-sounding “excellent opportunity to promote national education” that the Beijing Olympics could give grateful Hongkongers.)

Leung has seemed somewhat more interested again. In his first address there were a jumbo 259 words – mostly platitudinous – on sport.

For 2014 there was an actual decent idea, to make old landfill sites available to charities and sports organisations for building projects – two years on, the deadline for submissions (April) is still open, but it is progress of a sort.

Last year, Leung devoted a record-breaking 315 words of 17,500 to sport, with genuine ideas including setting up “a working group to gauge the demand for sports facilities”, more support to help promising young athletes train full-time, a one-off bonus to full-time athletes retiring in 2015 and “a consultancy study on how to support disabled athletes”. Plus the obligatory promise that something might happen one day at Kai Tak.

Admittedly, those plans may not have advanced much in the past year. We couldn’t find any info about that group gauging demand for sports facilities on the Sports Commission website, whose last published minutes are from March 2015. A spokesperson at the Home Affairs Bureau said they couldn’t comment until CY’s latest blockbuster on Wednesday.

Regarding Kai Tak, steps have finally been taken to possibly getting a spade in the ground: management consultants and quantity surveyors have been appointed.

There is likely still plenty of wrangling ahead between government and sports bodies who want to make sure the plans suit their own disciplines – hopefully we don’t end up with a ruined-by-compromise design.

On the plus side, the government has finally signed off on 20-years-in-the-making plans for a football training centre at Tseung Kwan O, with officials hopeful of starting building this year.

So are they finally starting to recognise sport’s value? Debatable.

It is still lumped uncomfortably in with ‘Culture’ in the Home Affairs Bureau. There is a new man in charge there, Yeung Tak-keung, and it’s unclear what experience or knowledge he has of sport. (I live in hope of being granted an audience).

CY may announce a new post of Sports Commissioner, which has been rumoured since his appointment in 2012. On the face of it, it would be a welcome, long-overdue move. But if, as my colleague Alex Lo has mooted, the embarrassingly useless Paul Chan Mo-po is shuffled into that role to “keep him out of harm’s way”, that would surely be a disaster for anyone with an interest in Hong Kong sport.

To Wednesday then; we wait with bated breath.