Foreign players recruited to boost domestic competition

SEAPOWER, the company which helped lift the profile of local basketball, is set to do the same with badminton by importing mainland Chinese players for the domestic league.

Seapower's decision to recruit foreign players is a first for the ''amateur'' game and is certain to lift its profile.

Hongkong Badminton Association administration officer Iris Mak Oi-yee said: ''We do not have any rules governing the recruitment of overseas players but our executive committee decided this should not prevent us from doing it. It should be good for the sport.'' The month-long league starts on February 22 and will culminate with the title match at the Southorn Stadium on March 26.

Seapower have signed three Shanghainese and three Hunan players, with their other team members being local junior internationals Tsang Ching-kin and Shum Man-kwong.

The Shanghai players and their coach are scheduled to arrive on February 16 but team manager Ho Kwong-chak said the Hunan players have yet to be issued Hongkong visas.

''We need at least six players to form the three doubles combinations for a full line-up and we can only hope that the Hunan players can come before the competition starts,'' said Ho.

''Our aim in importing foreign players is to help raise the profile of the sport in Hongkong and we also hope that, by doing so, we can help improve the standard of the local players.'' National coach Diana Lo Leung Bik-luen welcomed the move and even offered Seapower accommodation for their players at the Hongkong Sports Institute, where she is the head badminton coach.

''We spend a lot of money in sending our national squad members to China for training every year because we need top level training partners,'' said Lo, who is also a HKBA executive committee member.

''So how can we say no when Seapower are paying the expenses to bring the Chinese to us? And I understand that the Shanghainese players are all provincial first team members.

''The Seapower players will be living in at the Institute and training with our national squad during their Hongkong stay.'' Lo, however, stressed there was a question mark in having no limitation on the number of foreign players allowed.

Teams can register up to 12 players for the doubles league with at least six, forming three combinations, playing in each fixture.

She said: ''We are actually taking this year's league as a trial and we are certain to meet some problems, but we hope to learn from any mistakes.'' Only five teams - Seapower, Carlson, Taipo, YMCA and South China - have registered for Division A but that is already two more than there were in last year's competition.