Hong Kong must cherish Marco Fu while we still have him – if this is the end he will be sorely missed

An early retirement because of an eye problem would be a huge blow to this city as the snooker star is its sole sporting household name and a humble ambassador

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 February, 2018, 8:00am

You only need to take a quick glance around the half-empty venues at most sports events in this city outside of the Hong Kong Sevens to see that, sadly, there isn’t a great sporting culture here.

Time and again, Hong Kong shoots itself in the foot when it comes to sports events – take the high ticket prices for grandstand seats at the Hong Kong E-Prix last December, or the lack of floodlights at the government-owned Mission Road cricket ground, which limited attendance for last week’s Hong Kong T20 Blitz.

It is hardly an environment conducive to creating bonafide sports stars. That is all the more reason Hong Kong should be crossing its fingers and hoping Marco Fu doesn’t have to retire after his recent laser eye operation.

The snooker superstar admitted he fears for his future in the sport after having surgery to fix the vision in his left eye, and said even his doctor doesn’t know how long his recovery will take.

He may be 40 years old, but a healthy Fu surely still has plenty to give, having reached his highest ranking of fifth in the world only last July.

With US$3.5 million in career prize money, three titles and two World Championship semi-final appearances, he is the closest thing Hong Kong has to a sporting superstar competing consistently at the top level against the world’s best.

That is not to say Hong Kong doesn’t have other outstanding sporting talent. Ng On-yee is a two-time women’s snooker world champion and is close to becoming world number one; Tiffany Chan just joined the top table in women’s golf; and Siobhan Haughey is a Hong Kong swimmer of immense potential.

But in terms of a household name recognised worldwide, Fu is the only Hong Kong sportsperson who comes close.

Such a lack of visible global stars certainly doesn’t help the sporting apathy in this city. We mostly rely on a touring circus of other country’s exports, such as the English Premier League, to generate interest – compare the 38,000 who came to watch Liverpool in the Asia Trophy at Hong Kong Stadium last summer to the barely 500 that showed up to the same venue for Hong Kong’s 2-0 victory against Guangdong last month in the first leg of the annual Interport clash.

‘Don’t worry about me’ – Hong Kong’s Marco Fu assures fans after undergoing eye surgery that will keep him out ‘for some time’

Even with former Manchester United striker Diego Forlan banging in the goals for Kitchee, the Hong Kong Premier League champions can only dream of attracting the packed Hong Kong Stadium crowd they had for their exhibition clash against Tottenham last summer, when they play at Mong Kok Stadium every week.

If this really is the end for Fu, he will be sorely missed – for more than just his sporting ability and the exposure and attention he brings to Hong Kong’s fledgling sports scene.

Fu is also a class act away from the snooker table, always happy to pick up the phone to speak to the press when he’s on the road away from his family and his home.

After revealing on social media last month he had been suffering from retinal degeneration and myodesopsia, having started to see black spots during a tournament in England last September, Fu would have been well within his rights to ask that the media respect his privacy during his recovery.

Marco Fu admits fears for his future in snooker after laser surgery to fix vision in left eye

Yet he organised a press conference at a tiny coffee shop in Prince Edward to provide an update amid fears he could announce his retirement; you could barely move for the number of reporters and cameras there, a testament to his popularity and the esteem he is held in.

He is always respectful of his status as an ambassador to Hong Kong and does not shy away from it. It is also refreshing to see a genuine sports star be so humble – when his Manchester United Class of ’92 heroes were in town in July, he was star-struck to get a signed shirt from Paul Scholes.

Snooker is known as a “gentleman’s game” and there is perhaps no greater gentleman in Hong Kong sport than Fu.

Here’s hoping that a rest will do him the world of good after two decades in the game.

“I have never come across any major crisis,” he said. “This is the first time so it also gives my body a break, physically and mentally, because I have been playing for so long.

“If I cannot stay competitive against the world’s top players, I would call it a day. But at the moment it’s too early to talk about that.”

If he does have to hang up his cue then Hong Kong should fittingly honour its most famous athlete.