As we usher in the new year, Hong Kong sports face hard questions. Who will we turn to once Lee Lai-shan retires? What happens when the Salem Open moves to Beijing? When will Hong Kong make another bid to host the Asian Games? Where should local associations look for funds and a cohesive sports policy? Why cannot sport be the focus of the SAR's much-hoped for renaissance? First up, who can replace San San as a role model? Hong Kong's windsurfing heroine is virtually irreplaceable when it comes to imagery and branding of sport as a positive product in Hong Kong. No single athlete has had such influence on the development of local sport over the past decade, from being a part-time recreation into viable full-time professional career, than San San. But San San, 32, who emerged from the backwaters of Cheung Chau to beat the world at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and win Hong Kong its first Olympic medal (and that a gold), is now on the verge of winding up an illustrious career. She ended last year worrying over a mysterious stomach ailment that forced her to retire from two international races in two months. The problem first occurred at the Asian Games in Pusan in October. After securing gold by winning six of her first eight races, San San had to pull out of the last two races, complaining of stomach cramps. She was rushed to hospital in South Korea before being flown back to Hong Kong, where it was diagnosed that she had an inflammation of the bile duct in her gall bladder. A few weeks later, San San was struck down by a similar pain and had to pull out of the Siam Cup in Pattaya, a prelude to the World Championships. She had hoped to defend her world title and also win Hong Kong a berth at next year's Athens Olympics. But once again her plans were disrupted. In the past 12 years, San San has won an Olympic Gold, two Asian Games gold medals, three World Championship titles and a host of other medals and titles that have turned her easily into Hong Kong's most successful athlete. She turns 33 in September. Will she still be around when the Athens Olympics comes around? Her fighting spirit could still see her rise to the challenge. But the recent illnesses raise the question - after her, who? Next, what will happen now that Hong Kong's premier tennis tournament seems set to leave? Last year, organisers of the Salem Open revealed plans to move to Beijing. It is still not clear if that move will materialise, but Hong Kong is 99 per cent sure of losing the tournament, if not to Beijing then maybe to Bangkok. The loss of the SAR's only ATP Tour event is a blow to its plans to portray itself as Asia's World City. How can we boast of being a world city when we lose major sporting events such as this? The reason for the loss is, of course, simply financial. If Hong Kong cannot sustain a top-quality tournament, mainly due to the cramped facilities at Victoria Park, and does not have the sponsors capable of replacing the cigarette company, it speaks volumes about our once vibrant economy. The 'when' and 'why' parts of the conundrum facing Hong Kong sport this year are inter-linked. When will Hong Kong make another bid for hosting the Asian Games and why cannot sport become the rallying cry for economic recovery are two halves of the same issue. Hong Kong lost out to Doha, Qatar, in winning the right to host the next Asian Games, in 2006. We should now pitch for 2010. Already our neighbours, Guangzhou, and the hugely ambitious Shanghai have shown interest in bidding for the event. We should not be left out. If either of these two mainland cities should win, Hong Kong can kiss goodbye to any hopes it has of ever hosting the Asian Games in the next two decades at least. A bid for the Asian Games should be fully backed by the government who should climb aboard the Hong Kong Sports Express on a journey to take it out of the swamp of economic problems the SAR is stuck in. We could use South Korea as an example. The 1988 Seoul Olympics ushered in a new economic era for Korea that came to a climax with last year's soccer World Cup. Korea cleverly used sport as a binding force for its people. Sport rallies nations. It can build a patriotic feeling. Right now, Hong Kong can do with such a unifying force. A government-backed programme, starting with it building stadiums and related infrastructure, could revitalise moribund industry. Jobs would be created. Money would be spent. The whole carnival could return to Hong Kong. It would also put the world's focus back on Hong Kong, and for all the right reasons. An Asian Games in Hong Kong would be a ready-made success if our policy-makers could only realise the benefits that could come of such a venture. Lastly, the most pressing question facing Hong Kong sport is where will the sports associations - those organisations involved from the grassroots to elite level - look for guidance and funds this year? The government last year undertook a reviewof the entire sports structure. Among ideas put forward was abolishing the Sports Development Board, the body in charge of disbursing funds and running the elite athletics academy at Sha Tin, replacing it with a Sports Commission. Hong Kong sport has had periodic administrative overhauls. Nothing much seems to come out of them, if one listens to disgruntled officials among the various associations, including the Hong Kong Olympic Committee. Now the government has a chance to end all this bickering and allow local sport to run itself; that is, for the associations to govern themselves. If anything goes wrong, they cannot pass the buck. It must stop somewhere, if Hong Kong is to get on with discovering more San Sans and bringing athletes on through the system, rather than stumbling on to them by chance, as with San San and many other present athletes. The system should be streamlined, not encumbered by adding more layers. This will only lead to more division in the end. Who, what, where, when and why: Hong Kong sport will look back on this year with satisfaction if its elements can find the right answers.