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Kai Tak Sports Park

Don’t forget Hong Kong when you bid for the Fifa World Cup, soccer chief Timothy Fok says to China

Football chief says he has hinted to his mainland counterparts that Hong Kong would like to play a role in any future bid to host the tournament

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 12:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 10:35pm

Olympic and football chief Timothy Fok Tsun-ting is doing his best to make sure Chinese World Cup bidding officials remember Hong Kong when they eventually launch their quest to host one of the globe’s biggest sporting spectacles.

Fok, president of the Hong Kong Football Association, said he had met with his Chinese counterparts at the recent Fifa Congress in Bahrain and indicated to them that Hong Kong would be interested in staging matches in a future China-hosted Fifa World Cup.

“There is a trend now to combine hosting for major football events, like the United States bidding for the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico,” said Fok, who is also president of the Hong Kong Sports Federation and Olympic Committee.

“Beijing was very generous when they allowed Hong Kong to host the equestrian events [at the 2008 Olympic Games] and I remember my IOC colleagues were very impressed by Hong Kong, not only with its facilities but its administration and how it organised the event.

“I was at the Fifa Congress in Bahrain and I was always hint, hint to the Chinese officials ... if China got anything, don’t forget Hong Kong.”

China is likely to bid for the 2030 World Cup as part of president Xi Jinping’s grand plan to make the country a global football power. Xi said he wanted China to one day host the World Cup and eventually win the tournament. This has sparked massive investment in development programmes and into the Chinese Super League, with companies paying record fees to attract overseas players.

However, Fok acknowledges that for China to take Hong Kong seriously, the city must boast a stadium worthy of hosting a World Cup match.

“A major concern is the stadium’s usage [outside of major events],” said Fok. “But there are ways the community can get together and make it work. I remember when the Millennium Dome [in London] was first launched, it was a disaster and then commercial entities came together.

“I hope the new [Hong Kong] administration passes the stadium and makes Hong Kong a truly international city. And I’m sure sports can play a significant role in bringing the community together.”

Last month, Hong Kong commissioner for sports Yeung Tak-keung dismissed criticism that the proposed HK$31.9 billion Kai Tak Sports Park, which would feature a 50,000-seater modern stadium, would become a white elephant. He also has high hopes that any China World Cup bid would involve Hong Kong.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on football in the mainland and we really hope that it can grow and eventually we can host [part of] a World Cup, just like 10 years ago when we hosted the equestrian events for the Beijing Olympics,” he had said.

“So maybe one day when China hosts the World Cup, Hong Kong can play a part. What I can say with certainty now is that without the facilities we will not be part of the picture.”

Fok, who played a part in China winning the bid to host the 2008 Olympics, said Hong Kong people would benefit from having a major stadium that can host not only World Cup matches but stand as a symbol of an international, cosmopolitan city.

“If you look at Singapore [National Stadium], they just built the thing,” he said. “They didn’t wait around. In the long run, we need to build a stadium and come together to make sure it is of benefit to the community. Hong Kong people actually love their sport and this would be for the betterment of the Hong Kong people.”