Hong Kong government puts property developers’ desires ahead of people’s health – again

The determination to concrete over Wan Chai Sports Ground demonstrates once more that the powers that be couldn’t care less about citizens’ health and fitness if there is a fast buck to be made

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 February, 2017, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 February, 2017, 6:40pm

It’s customary in this space to use the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon as an annual reminder to readers of the Hong Kong government’s contempt for sport.

Next Sunday, 74,000 people will get up in the small hours to make the pre-dawn starts because the government cannot contemplate inconveniencing people for a few hours once a year by closing roads for a decent amount of time.

Well hold on, here comes chief executive CY Leung – he of “sport does not contribute to the economy” fame – with the final policy address of his glorious reign. “Twenty billion dollars for sport” was the headline: how’s that for contempt?

But that HK$20 billion over five years seems to include the mammoth Kai Tak Sports Park among various community basketball hoops, five-a-side courts, heating for swimming pools and the like – welcome, of course, but not game-changing.

In the next breath CY promised “comprehensive redevelopment” of Wan Chai Sports Ground. “Apart from convention and exhibition venues, the development proposal will comprise trendy and novel recreation and sports facilities ...”

A paragraph carefully crafted to distract people from its content by the horrendous phrase “trendy and novel” coming from CY’s lips.

A translation: “After more than a decade of being badgered by our property-developing and hotel-owning cronies about that prime harbourfront land going to waste, we are finally going to concrete over it.

“We might require whichever one of our chums gets the contract to include a skateboarding half-pipe or rock-climbing wall as some sort of sop to the ‘sports community’, whatever that is.”

Hong Kong Olympic chief Timothy Fok laments lack of consultation over scrapping of ‘home of athletics’

The objections came thick and fast as people realised that “redeveloping” meant “scrapping”, with Kwan Kee, head of the Athletics Association, describing the venue as “unique and irreplaceable”.

Seizing the space to expand the Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) has been a government aim for at least a decade, officials no doubt furious at the squandered potential for money-making as their chauffeurs drive them past the ground every day on the way to government HQ.

Obviously, it is one of the few facilities on Hong Kong Island for schools and grassroots athletes, to which the reply from government is a sort of hand-waving gesture towards Hong Kong Stadium (which does not have an athletics track) and Kai Tak (which will be on the other side of the harbour if ever built).

The redevelopment will provide “really up and coming, really a niche kind of sport activities, providing a more diversified portfolio for our citizens in Hong Kong to really enjoy,” said secretary for commerce and economic development Gregory So Kam-leung.

Yeah, I have far too much of my portfolio in football at the moment and have been looking to rebalance my holdings by diversifying into emerging markets such as kabbadi.

Secretary for home affairs Lau Kong-wah insists: “We have already conducted a consultation thoroughly;” with whom is a mystery. He pointed out that the Trade Development Council – which owns HKCEC – also will issue a study of its own; not as if it would have an agenda.

Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Sports Park plans are taking shape nicely – but will the government ever approve them?

The subsidiary of New World which runs HKCEC earned HK$645 million (a 25 per cent drop) from its facilities management arm in 2016, according to its annual report.

Those involved in the Hong Kong ‘MICE’ industry say 130,000 square metres of convention and exhibition space is needed by 2028, an assertion based on a consultancy report whose main argument is ‘even though we don’t use all our space, that’s because there’s not enough, so we better build more’. AsiaWorld-Expo uses this reasoning to insist that because it was used to capacity on 66 days out of 365 last year, the time is ripe for expansion.

Finally, last year an office building 10 minutes’ walk away from the sports ground sold to a Chinese firm for HK$10 billion.

These are the arguments and numbers that matter to the government – forget the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, who will have been inspired to make healthy living a lifestyle choice from school sports days at the ground.

What proportion of the tens of thousands running the marathon next Sunday will have got their first taste of sport at the venue? As far as the powers that be are concerned, who cares?