Fencing heroes miss out on red carpet welcome

The gold medallists at the Paralympics have little chance of a red carpet reception like the one for Lee Lai-shan.

Wheelchair fencer Ben Cheung Wai-leung, 36, made history when he won the territory's first fencing gold in Atlanta on Sunday. Yesterday, he, Raymond Chan Sze-kit, Albert Chan Kam-loi and Eric Kwong Wai-ip won the team foil title.

But while Lee has been inundated with commercial offers since her historic wind surfing triumph at last month's Olympics, it is a different story for the territory's latest gold medallists.

No companies have telephoned to offer sponsorship and no special arrangements are being considered by the Government for any VIP-grade reception.

A government spokesman said officials were not considering any special ways to receive the fencers.

'It's different, and it's not a breakthrough [in the same sense]. We'll have to see when it's near the time [of their return],' she said.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong Sports Association for the Physically Disabled, Chow Yuen-wan, said the group hoped to use the airport's bus dock, where Lee's press conference was held the day she returned, for the disabled athletes to meet the press on August 27.

The alternative is the airport's VIP suite - an idea rejected by a Civil Aviation spokesman who said: 'They are not VIPs.' 'The Paralympic team would hardly get any attention from the public if it was not because of Lee Lai-shan,' said Ms Chow.

'People tend to think it was easier for the disabled to win in the Paralympics. In fact, they have gone through just as many competitions as the Olympic athletes.' The Sports Development Board called for more government funding and commercial sponsorships to allow disabled people to become professional athletes.