Hong Kong could miss out on next Marco Fu because of uncertainty over snooker’s future, warns coach
Billiard sports may lose its place at the elite Hong Kong Sports Institute, and that is already having a negative impact on next generation of talented youngsters, warns Wayne Griffiths
Hong Kong billiard sports coach Wayne Griffiths fears Hong Kong might miss out on the next Marco Fu Ka-chun if the game loses its status as an elite sport at the Hong Kong Sports Institute.
Despite a host of impressive achievements in recent years including world titles for Ng On-yee in the women’s game and Cheung Ka-wai at under-18 level, the sport may lose its ‘Tier A’ status, and the support and funding that entails, because it is not in the Olympics and was dropped from the previous and next Asian Games.
HKSI funding provides grants to top youngsters, but Griffiths fears the uncertainty over snooker’s status may convince parents to steer talented kids away from the game in a city where academic success is often seen as more important than sporting glory.
Hangzhou will host the 2022 Asian Games and snooker is likely to return, given its popularity in China. Griffiths hopes that persuades decision-makers on the government’s Elite Sports Committee, which is soon set to meet, to retain snooker as a HKSI elite sport.
“In Hong Kong when trying to bring children into sport there is a lot of education pressure – when [parents] see there’s maybe no guaranteed future you can understand why they may be saying, ‘Let’s focus on the education route and leave the sport,’” said Griffiths, son of Welsh snooker great Terry.
“We are losing young people now that could be winning us medals ... If we do get back into the Asian Games and don’t do well, you could look back at this period and say, ‘Is that the time we lost some of our young medal winners of the future?’
“To become a celebrity like On-yee and Marco, you first, most importantly, need to deliver world-class results, while we’re delivering those world class results I hope the board will see the positive message that sends out to young sports people in Hong Kong and give us the long-term guarantee that will give us the best chance to build for the future and find the next On-yee and Marco.”
Ng has become a local star after her world title win in 2015, while top pro Fu – a gold medallist the last time snooker was in the Asian Games in 2010 – is in the best form of his life, winning the Scottish Open in December 2016.
Cheung was also a bronze medallist at the 2017 world under-21 championships; Tam Yun-fung was runner-up at the 2017 world under-18s and Lo Ho-sum a bronze medallist in pool’s 2016 world under-19s.
“I hope that [the committee] has more focus on the results, more of a long-term focus,” added Griffiths.
“What I’m finding in the last year or so we’ve lost a couple of very good juniors back to part-time training or even leaving the squad altogether to go back to focus on school.
“We’re finding because we can’t guarantee our future on world-class results alone, young talented players I would have my eye on for the Asian Games, if we get back in in 2022, are leaving the squad because of doubts around our future.
“It’s quite sad, not easy to manage, we don’t have a big pool of people in Hong Kong and when we lose talented players it certainly makes things tougher.
“I would hope with the experience of the people on the board they would look at our results, look at the profile billiard sports gives Hong Kong around the world – there’s not many sports that generate that worldwide following Marco does,” added Griffiths.
“So I’m hoping that results with On-yee, Marco, junior world champions, would give the decision-makers enough to at least give us some assurance for the longer-term future so as a head coach I can try to hang on to my best young players.
“Even though the 2022 Asian Games is some years away, before we start planning for young athletes who could potentially go there and do very well they are making decisions about their future now and part of that is due to the uncertainty we face as a non-Olympics, non-Asian Games sport.”