Eligibility rule gives Optimists negative outlook

IT'S tough at the top, even if you're an Optimist.

Just ask Tony Morgan, whose Optimists side from the Hongkong Cricket Club moved one point clear of the pack after last weekend's round of Sunday League fixtures.

Or so they thought.

Today they are back in second place, three points behind arch-rivals Templars after being deducted four points by the Hongkong Cricket Association for fielding an unregistered player.

The association introduced a new rule regarding the registration and eligibility of players at the start of this season and it has caught out the majority of teams in the Saturday and Sunday leagues.

The rule states that no player may play more than a total of three games without being a paid-up member of the association.

Once he has played three games the penalties begin - one point off for the first offence, two off for the second and so on, with the captain held responsible for the availability of his players.

When Optimists fielded medium-pace bowler Murray Forbes against club rivals Scorpions last Sunday, Forbes was making his fourth appearance in Hongkong cricket but only his second for Optimists. His other two had been for Saturday League side Kai Tak.

As it was the fourth time Optimists had infringed the rule this season - the first three all involved Morgan, due to an early-season misunderstanding between player and club - four points were removed from their total, making 10 in all, and the lead changed hands off the pitch rather than on it.

When the association decided to bring in the rule it was inevitable there would be teething problems.

And while I am all in favour of business-like administration in local sport, the situation has clearly got out of hand, with Islanders in the Saturday League and British Forces in the Sunday League both losing 21 points.

The association cannot backtrack now, of course, but must look closely at the implementation of the rule - and of the penalty - at the end of the season.

How about bringing in a pre-season team registration fee, or replacing deduction of points with the imposition of fines for individual cases? In the meantime, it will be a terrible shame if the Sunday championship is decided in the admin office rather than on the field.

HK link to far out Hibernian fan club IF you're ever walking through Weifang in the Shandong province of northern China, don't be surprised to see a group of schoolchildren playing football in the famous green and white strip of Scottish club Hibernian.

It's all thanks to Edinburgh-based businessman Tom Farmer, whose money saved Hibs from extinction, and his Hongkong-based friend, Tom King.

Between them they have created the furthest outpost of the Hibernian supporters' club.

The story starts with a back-packing trip through China by Farmer and his son, John.

During his journey, Farmer visited the grave of the great Eric Liddell, Scotland's 400 metres gold medal winner in the 1924 Olympic Games immortalised in the film ''Chariots of Fire'' for his refusal to run on a Sunday. (Liddell, a missionary in China, died in a Japanese internment camp in 1945).

Their search took them to Weifang, where Farmer got chatting with the local director of education and the headmaster of the town's school.

The conversation soon turned to football and Farmer was told the boys were all interested in the game but did not have the money to buy their own kit.

Keen to help - and give his beloved Hibs some new fans in China at the same time - Farmer contacted his friend in Hongkong, Tom King, who made up the special strip. With the help of the Eric Liddell Foundation in Hongkong, the kit was shipped up to Shandong via diplomatic sources.

Now the boys proudly wear the green and white and call themselves Weifang Hibernian FC - and they've even had their photograph in Edinburgh's Saturday evening sports paper, The Pink.

''Who says sport and politics don't mix, eh?'' said King.

''I don't know if the youth policy of Scottish Premier League teams now extends to the mainland but it's an interesting thought.'' It should be no surprise that the shirts were made up so swiftly and the sizes were perfect - Farmer is the boss of Kwik-fit.

South China shaggy dog story needs happy end IT'S no wonder the South China football team have lost their bite this season.

For they are missing their most prized piece of training equipment - Leslie Santos' dog.

Young Leslie is not having the best of luck at the moment, with his club among the also-rans, his appearances restricted by a leg injury and his favourite pet, baak pei jee (white-skinned pig), gone astray.

Despite the unflattering nickname, the dog is a real cutey, a one-year-old snow white cocker spaniel with long fawn ears.

When she ran off recently all the South China players were sent on a training run round Caroline Hill to look for her. Alas, to no avail.

''They all miss her like mad,'' said a South China insider.

''She was the best player on the team - great control on the ball, a tough tackler and always hounding the opposition. Her skill was amazing.'' So, if anyone is wandering around So Kon Po and spots a forlorn looking dog missing her teammates, call at the South China club.

Sports Person of the Week: Eastern goalkeeper Iain Hesford - nine clean sheets in his first nine league games in Hongkong football to set a local record.

Sports Quote of the Week: ''Most of these (student) suicide cases stem from failure, usually through academic studies . . . that's why sports participation should be encouraged in all schools. In sport there's a winner and a loser and through sports participation students can accept failure while reaping the rewards of success'' - Lau Chak-bun, principal inspector of the physical education unit of the Hongkong education department.