Hong Kong sport has come on leaps and bounds since handover, and city can aim even higher, insists sports commissioner

Yeung Tak-keung says the city’s attitude to physical activity and healthy living has been transformed since 1997

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 11:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 9:33pm

Sport in Hong Kong has come on leaps and bounds since the handover, and the only way is up, insists sports commissioner Yeung Tak-keung.

Critics might suggest that the fact the city only got around to appointing its first civil servant dedicated to sport almost 20 years after the handover runs counter to Yeung’s claim.

But he has achieved his primary mission – getting funding approved for the long-delayed Kai Tak Sports Park – and insists the government is awake to the benefits of physical activity and healthy living.

“The general public attitude towards sport has changed a lot since the handover,” said Yeung. “I think a lot of Hong Kong people still remember our windsurfing gold medallist Lee Lai-shan, and how she said ‘Hong Kong athletes are not rubbish’.

“Because at that time [1996], sport was not important in the general public’s mind, and we were not that competitive in the international sports arena.

“But now we have produced many good athletes, many young and promising, and the participation in sports has been growing a lot.

“Compared with 20 years ago I think we have moved forward and we can build on that to aim higher.

We hope one day we can really achieve our goals of sport for all, everybody can choose their own sport and achieve even better results in the big games.”

Yeung said he was afraid to tell his parents about his sporting success as a schoolboy in the pre-handover days – they would have immediately banned him from taking part, fearing his grades would suffer.

That kind of attitude may persist among some – even many – parents, but there are signs of a gradual appreciation that a fit body can complement the pursuit of academic excellence.

“Generally speaking the community and the families are more supportive to our younger generation, [when they want to play sport],” said Yeung.

“In the past most parents would think academic study is the most important, but now more and more parents realise that study and sport can be developed together. I think this is a very encouraging thing.

“Also, in the past 10 years the government has invested more resources in sport, for example several funds and more support for the Hong Kong Sports Institute and Hong Kong Football Association and other sports organisations.

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“I think we are picking up in terms of sports culture. I would like to see more and more people, especially the young people, participate in sport and for those who have talent we are willing to provide opportunities for them to develop and realise their potential.

“But we not just talking about elite sport. In general, we think sport can help not just for health and fitness, it’s helpful for kids overall development and character. We think it’s important.”

While developing sport among the local Chinese population was never a priority for the British colonial government, China has recently declared multiple sports and healthy lifestyle related goals for its 1.3 billion people.

Could this new emphasis have an effect in the Special Administrative Region?

Yeung and his boss at the Home Affairs Bureau, Lau Kong-wah,啊and representatives of the “sports sector” in Hong Kong met with the director of the General Administration of Sport of China, Gou Zhongwen, in Beijing in April “to discuss the direction of co-operation on sports development”, according to a government press release.

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Yeung would not elaborate on the nature of those discussions, but it would seem strange if the new importance of sport in China – and by extension its SARs – was not stressed.

“We are responsible for our own sports development but we also work closely with the mainland on different aspects,” said Yeung.

“We are already doing a lot of exchange programmes with the mainland sports sector. Many of our elite athletes go back to the mainland for training and high-level competition that is difficult to find here.

“Because the market is so big in China overall, they are attracting a lot of interest from the sports world. A lot of major events are being held in China and we can play a part ... it’s mutually beneficial, we can attract more interest in sports in this part of world

“We met with the national administration of sport and the new head of the sports administration, and he is very positive, he welcomed more cooperation between Hong Kong and the mainland.

“He is happy to send coaches and athletes to Hong Kong to help us, and to welcome our athletes to go train with them – it’s a good sign for both Hong Kong and the mainland, we want to be part of the global sports map.”

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But Yeung insisted, “I don’t think I need to use that,” when asked if the China factor could help lend weight to his arguments when trying to convince colleagues in the local government of the importance of sport.

“[We] just repeat the message that sport is important not just to individuals but the community – more and more people realise that importance, and I don’t think we need to point to the mainland.

“It’s just a matter of how you put it into practice in Hong Kong. Knowing the importance of sport is one thing, putting it in practice is another. We don’t need to use mainland as example, we just focus on how to promote the message in Hong Kong.”

Career civil servant Yeung naturally backed new incoming chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s sporting credentials, pointing out that “about 10 years ago she was permanent secretary of the Home Affairs Bureau, so all along she has been very supportive of sport and sports development”.

“I think generally speaking the sports sector think and hope she will continue to support sport and they are quite confident that she will. Some even say she can maybe give us more resources and I heard some people already have their ‘wishlist’.”

Part of that, as always, will be funding for new facilities. Kai Tak should help, though it won’t be open until 2022 at the very earliest, in the unlikely event there are no further delays.

“Everyone says we need more venues,” admits Yeung. “After the Olympics in Rio, we did a quite thorough and comprehensive review of sports development in Hong Kong, including meeting with the sports sector, schools, athletes, coaches, and most people say venues is the bottleneck.

“They appreciate what the government has done in the past 10 years by investing money and resources, providing land, support for the Sports Institute redevelopment programme, but they say one thing – everybody is competing for the venues.

“That’s why we think Kai Tak is important, but not just Kai Tak. In the past year we’ve approved two pieces of land to develop sports facilities, one the football training centre at Tseung Kwan O that is close to completion and the other a land application from the Cricket Association to build a practice ground in Gin Drinker’s Bay.

“The other thing is we will allocate HK$20 billion to launch a five-year plan to develop community sports facilities, that was one of the major initiatives in the policy address this year.”