Aspiring local athletes were once thought to have little future, but with the help of a support programme that has all started to change. In 1999, the Hong Kong Sports Development Board launched the Athletes' Enhancement Programme. Its aim was to provide sports enthusiasts with comprehensive educational, career and personal development assistance. Two years later, 17 talented and devoted athletes have benefited - including Asian Games gold medallist Ng Siu-ching and Paralympics gold medallist Ben Cheung Wai-leung. This year, swimmer Tam Chi-kin, fencer Lau Kwok-kin and retired badminton player Chan Mei-mei will be added to the list of beneficiaries. The programme, a tailor-made support system comprising financial assistance, career guidance and counselling, career training courses and even job opportunities, accepts applications from all promising athletes. For example, fencer Lau, who represented the SAR at the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand and at the World University Games in 1999 and this year, did not qualify for the Government's student loan scheme. In desperate need of financial assistance to pay for his studies, he eventually secured aid from the enhancement programme. 'With the financial support provided by this programme, I can forget about the financial burden of my tuition fees and just concentrate on my studies and training,' said the 24-year-old, who hopes to become a physical education teacher in the near future.