Foot fault for Hong Kong tennis

Internal row threatens to overshadow all the hard work done to qualify again for elite status with the Sports Institute

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 10:13pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 December, 2013, 10:13pm

Trouble is brewing in the courts of the Hong Kong Tennis Association. At first glance it seems to be a battle between forces of the past and the future.

A pity, especially with the sport now on the cusp of getting back into the Hong Kong Sports Institute and receiving millions of dollars of support from the government annually.

Local tennis got a shot in the arm when top women's player Zhang Ling reached the singles finals at the Asian Championships last week.

Kwok and Tsui are champions of a time when the game was more laid back and played in an atmosphere of tea and crumpets
Alvin Sallay

That effort was enough to win the sport the last few valuable points it needed to reach a benchmark set by the elite academy.

Together with points won in the junior category by Katherine Ip Cheng, the association has collected the required amount to become an elite sport from 2015.

But an internal struggle threatens to rip the association apart. Two former presidents, Philip Kwok Chi-kuen and Kenneth Tsui Kam-cheung, who between them ran the association for 28 years, are up in arms at a proposal by the present executive council - to be discussed at a meeting on Tuesday - to change the constitution to allow people with financial interests in the tennis business to join the council.

In an open letter, the pair said: "If the special resolutions of this EGM [extraordinary general meeting] are passed, the HKTA may be exposed to the danger of being controlled by persons with financial interests in tennis."

It is understood they are referring to Herbert Chow Siu-lung and Andy Brothers. Chow is the managing director of Chickeeduck, a garment company while Brothers owns a business providing coaching services to tennis clubs.

Both are members of the present council and Chow is running for president with incumbent Vincent Liang stepping down.

Kwok and Tsui are champions of a time when the game was more laid back and played in an atmosphere of tea and crumpets. In today's world, where sport is run by corporate types, they seem threatened.

Chow pulls no punches, saying: "The HKTA is modernising the constitution to welcome people with financial interests in the tennis business to join its council. In the past, such people were only allowed to hold non-officer positions on the council. No other sports association in Hong Kong has such a restriction, only the HKTA does. Even the USTA [United States Tennis Association] lifted this restriction many years ago."

The problem is more deep-rooted than just a conflict of egos. It seems the thinking of both camps are at odds. Take for example the ongoing ITF women's circuit at Victoria Park, which is a series of tournaments on the lowest rung of the professional circuit.

It gives aspiring youngsters the opportunity to take the first step into the big time.

This initiative taken by the HKTA is one the former council opposed as they felt it didn't draw crowds and was a loss-making exercise. The new council feels it gives local teenagers the chance to play against foreign opposition and improve their game.

If you asked Suki Law Yik-yan, 16, and Nikita Tang Nok-yiu, 14, who won a match in the qualifying draw, they would give the thumbs up for the new council.

The previous HKTA had HK$8 million in its coffers and refused to bankroll such small events. The new council feels that more competition at home for local players is the way forward. On this score, they are right.

The row is a shame, with the sport ready to lift off with the WTA Championship next year and the anticipated return to the Sports Institute.

As for entry into the Fo Tan elite academy, we can't understand why tennis will have to wait until 2015.

The Sports Institute works in cycles. According to them, results achieved by any sport during the current biennial review period - January 2013 to December 2014 - will be considered for tier A status for the next four-year support cycle which is 2015-2019.

It's a shame that tennis has to wait a year for the benefits to kick in. Surely the Sports Commission, which overlooks the process, can fast-track this. What's the point of making a sport wait? The review for sports aspiring to join the elite category should be done annually.

In the meantime, let's hope the warring parties within tennis can work as one for the sake of the sport, which now seems to have a bright future.