Support, as any athlete will tell you, can be hard to come by. The advice of those with experience can often prove invaluable to the next generation. Thankfully, Hong Kong athletes are able to rely on Friends of Hong Kong Sports Institute, a group of former athletes willing to lend a hand. This band of yesteryear stars have been quietly counselling, and when needed, offering a sympathetic ear and a helping hand to athletes who are struggling to juggle a competitive career with concerns about their post-athletic future. 'We are an alumni of former athletes who know what it is like to be left alone without any advice. Today's athletes can turn to us if they want to,' said Amy Chan Lim-chee, secretary of Friends of HKSI. Chan, a leading badminton player in her day, is the secretary and spokesperson for the 130-strong band of retired athletes who are now trying to give something back to Hong Kong sport. The chairman of this organisation is former cycling ace Hung Chung-yam while vice-chairman is athletic and rowing star Malina Ngai Man-ling. 'Our mission is to give something back to Hong Kong sport and also try to raise the awareness and profile of local sport,' said Hung. You need a couple of criteria to join the body Hung leads. You need to have represented Hong Kong at international level and you need to have retired. 'But we have a large number of associate members . . . people like San San, Wong Kam-po and other leading athletes of the day,' said Hung. The idea to form a circle of athletes was born some 10 years ago when it was bandied around by former Hong Kong soccer coach Kwok Ka-ming and a number of other athletes who felt there was a need for a group which could give moral and psychological support. But it was only three years ago that the body was eventually set up. The first years have been low-key. But now Friends of HKSI feel they need as much publicity as they can get in a bid to raise the profile of sport. 'The image of athletes in today's society is very blurred. There is no real identity. We don't tell the public that we are athletes. We must raise the profile of the athletes while at the same time try to set up a counselling service so that any athlete in need can turn to us. 'I remember when I was an athlete, I did not have anyone to turn to. It seemed to me that the world was so cold and cruel,' said Chan, a gold medallist at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland. 'None of us had any time during our athletic career to set up a body like this. But now we are creating time so that we can give something back. We want to show that we can not only take, but give also.' According to Chan, not every athlete goes on to make a successful career outside sport once he or she retires. 'We are trying to help such athletes. Maybe we can set up a fund to help them soon,' said Chan, who is the Sports, Athlete Affairs manager at the SI. The Friends have raised more than $1.7 million from two 12-hour 'runathons' held prior to Christmas in 1998 and 1999. 'The first year we raised $700,000 and last December we raised $1 million. Over 120 teams participated with each team having 12 athletes. Both retired and current athletes took part and it was all good fun,' said Chan. Ninety per cent of the money has been donated to charity. The rest has gone on the running expenses of the body. An annual fee of $50 is also charged for membership. Outside agencies - the Sports Development Board, the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee and various sports associations - have been supportive of what Friends of HKSI are doing. 'We are there to give a helping hand,' adds Chan. After all, that's what friends are for.