The Rational Ref

Ignore the naysayers and give Project Phoenix a chance

Critics are quick to shoot down idea to raise funding, but if local soccer is to rise from the ashes, fans must show support

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 8:25pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 March, 2014, 8:25pm

Legend has it that the phoenix rises from the flames of a fierce and ferocious fire and not from some flimsy, flickering light. Hong Kong's own Project Phoenix requires substantial fuel if soccer development is to rise majestically from the dark, depressing depths of its recent past.

Mark Sutcliffe, chief executive of the Hong Kong Football Association, has made a solid case and an impassioned plea for the government to keep alight the prospects for a bright and vibrant local soccer scene.

At first glance, this proposal for HK$100 million annually over five years appears absurd and opponents of Project Phoenix have been quick to shoot it down.

Hong Kong soccer needs hope and Project Phoenix is the platform that provides this
William Lai

The government now provides Project Phoenix with HK$20 million annually for three years. Much of the money has been used to hire administrative and technical personnel.

To put this figure into context, First Division clubs need HK$5 million annually to run their teams, with richer clubs spending more than double this to increase their chances of winning silverware and securing places in the AFC's regional competitions.

The richer clubs do not hesitate to pour in more money either, with most of it used to recruit personnel.

Therefore under further consideration, it makes sense to pour in more money for this project. Without Project Phoenix and a keyed-in chief executive, where would the HKFA and local soccer be right now?

With the most optimistic outlook, local soccer would still be where it is today, but without any focus and hope for a promising future. If there's one thing that all fans have discovered from their sport, it is hope eternal.

Critics of Project Phoenix have no leg to stand on with their detrimental and disapproving comments
William Lai

Hope is a vital ingredient for all aspects of soccer, from the underdogs who need it for motivation to challenge against the biggest odds, to the winners who need it for further incentive to improve themselves and better their own achievements.

Hong Kong soccer needs hope and Project Phoenix is the platform that provides this.

The recent allegations of match-fixing, with Tuen Mun and Happy Valley being suspended from the First Division, provide additional justification for the merits of Project Phoenix and its plans to develop a professionally run Premier League.

Without stringent measures firmly in place, Hong Kong soccer would sink easier into the murky underworld where match-fixing thrives. Like all things in soccer, there are no guarantees for success.

Anti-graft measures only increase the likelihood against match-fixing happening, just as using money to hire personnel and establish key infrastructures in soccer development increases the chances of the sport's success in Hong Kong.

Furthermore, Sutcliffe has transformed the way the HKFA operates and even has a blog that provides updates and progress reports of the work being done by Hong Kong's official governing soccer authority.

The public, press and players are free to post comments on his blog and can expect polite and reasoned responses. In the past, public relations and communications were never the strong points of the HKFA, having tied itself up with reams of red tape and a disdain for transparency.

Critics of Project Phoenix have no leg to stand on with their detrimental and disapproving comments.

Notice how they do not offer any constructive comments or alternative solutions to the current state of affairs, but instead complain bitterly that they are not on the receiving end of any tangible benefits.

In today's culture of instant gratification, they are like spoilt kids who want immediate rewards for their short-term public concession of "support".

First Division clubs in particular have complained that they have seen little of the money from Project Phoenix, as well as no evidence of any progress in administrative governance, support for club management and improvement in refereeing quality.

From a referee's perspective, these dissenters are just as bad as - if not worse than - players and coaches who persistently complain at referees for making decisions against their team without regard for whether the decision is correct or not.

During matches, complainers fail to see the bigger picture where the referee has to make decisions irrespective of which team benefits because ultimately making decisions without fear or favour is beneficial for the game.

Similarly, critics of Project Phoenix complain only because they refuse to see the bigger picture where, without fear or favour, the greatest number will benefit in the long run.

In a little over a year, Sutcliffe has made the HKFA more open, transparent and accountable than the organisation has ever been in its 100-year existence. He is an engaging and approachable man who is willing to spend time listening and dealing with genuine concerns.

Instead of being lumbered with an out-of-touch and untouchable HKFA board and lackey administration from the past, the public, press and players now face a friendly modern representative who is working extremely hard to make a difference.

From Sutcliffe, we can see that hope for Hong Kong soccer still exists.

To anyone who truly wants to see local soccer flourish, let's support Sutcliffe's five-year proposal and help make the phoenix rise majestically. The alternative is to play soccer among the sodden ashes of an insignificant campfire.

Agree or disagree? Contact Rational Ref at rationalref@gmail.com