Sports body 'could have prevented death'

THE father of a local karatedo champion who died after a tournament said yesterday that the sport's association should have refused to let his son compete in five rounds of hard contact competition in one day.

Immigration assistant Chou Chien-hung, 23, collected two trophies at a ceremony after the bouts in a Kwai Chung middle school on November 22 last year, but felt too sick to attend the photo session and died in hospital three weeks later.

Although Mr Chao Tak-ming admitted his son had taken part of his own volition, he said the association had the right to stop him taking part in so many rounds in a single day.

''Although it seems that a two-minute round is only a short period, a person becomes exhausted when such a large amount of energy is being utilised,'' he said.

A jury sitting before Coroner Rodney Venning returned a unanimous verdict of death by misadventure. Chien-hung died in Queen Elizabeth Hospital on December 16 from cerebral contusion, oedema and broncho-pneumonia.

Chien-hung, a brown belt holder, is the first player to sustain fatal injuries during a local competition organised by the 400-member Hongkong Karatedo Hard Contact Association. Karatedo is a form of karate in which the combatants wear body and head protectors.

Officials of the association told the South China Morning Post they were considering changes to tournament rules which would restrict the number of bouts and the classes in which a player could participate.

Several witnesses who watched the competition testified that there had been nothing wrong with Chien-hung during the bouts.

The chairman of the association, Chu Tak-kee, 34, said Chien-hung had delivered heavy blows of his own, causing his opponents to fall to the ground.

A player scores a point if a punch or kick is judged to have landed on the head guard or body guard of the opponent in the proper manner. A competitor also earns a point when his opponent breaks a rule.

A player had to obtain five points in a round to win, the court was told.

Chien-hung won two rounds in the middle-weight class and two out of three in the free-weight class during the tournament on November 22.

He had been allowed to enter directly into the finals on that day despite having been absent from the preliminary rounds on November 15.

Cheng Mun-ching, 39, an instructor and international referee in karatedo, had accepted Chien-hung's explanation that he was absent on November 15 because he had been in hospital after being attacked on Lantau Island that day.

Chien-hung's father confirmed during the inquiry that his son had called to say he had been assaulted on Lantau Island.

He said he noticed when Chien-hung came home later that day that one eye was red and he had been bleeding from a head wound.

Mr Cheng said Chien-hung reacted very quickly and made very accurate blows during the competition.

As well as competing in five bouts, there had been a draw in one of the free-weight class rounds and an extra two-minute round was needed, he said.

During the extra round, which Chien-hung eventually won, he received a blow to the body and one to the neck.

Mr Cheng said he stopped the fight and examined Chien-hung's arms.

He had allowed the bout to continue after Chien-hung indicated he was all right by raising his hands.

Cheung Yu-ting, 19, a student who had contested that match said he could not recall exactly what had led Mr Cheng to separate them, although he remembered landing a blow on his opponent.

Mr Chao said his son had secretly taken part in the hard contact competitions for fear that he and his wife would object.

He said he learned of his son's enthusiasm for the martial arts when he won a trophy in a competition in 1991.

Asked why he and his wife had not attended the competition on November 22, Mr Chao said: ''It's too cruel [for us to watch].'' Mrs Chao described karatedo and the hard contact competitions as ''very dangerous''.

Although he saw nothing wrong with karatedo being played as a sport or for fitness, Mr Chao said he strongly objected to competition.

Mr Chu, who has been the association's chairman since its registration in January 1985, said the safety standards applied to the sport were very high.

Mr Cheng, who is also secretary of the association, said karatedo was very safe when compared with other sports, such as karate.

He confirmed the association was considering allowing a competitor to take part in only one category with a maximum of five two-minute rounds in one day.

It might also insist that those who wanted to join two categories, such as middle-weight and free-weight classes, as Chien-hung had done, would have to play each category on a different day.

Mr Cheng said he regarded Chien-hung's death as a loss to the local sports community since he was a potential candidate to represent Hongkong in international karatedo contests.

A document signed by Chien-hung weeks before the competition held that the association would not be held responsible if an accident occurred during a competition.

Chien-hung was the middleweight champion and second runner-up in the free-weight division.

His friend, Leung Chi-yiu, said Chien-hung told him he was a bit dizzy just before the ceremony.

He went up to the stage and received his prizes. But he failed to attend a subsequent five-minute photo session.

An ambulance was called after Chien-hung was found vomiting in a sitting area.

He was taken to the Princess Margaret Hospital then transferred to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.