Brave faces all around despite job uncertainty

Their jobs might be on the line, and one of them could be disciplined for manhandling an official at an international event. But Hong Kong's elite coaches still wore smiles as they were honoured at the annual Hongkong Bank Foundation Coaching Awards ceremony yesterday.

Under siege at home and abroad, Hong Kong's elite coaches received words of support from Sports Development Board chairman Victor Hui Chun-fui. He backed beleaguered table tennis coach Chan Kong-wah, whose ref-rage act over a disputed point at the World Championships in Paris saw him being shown the red card and the men's double team being disqualified in the quarter-finals.

'While it was not the right thing to do, considering the importance of the match, I can understand his feeling,' said Hui. 'I have been in football for so long that I know how emotions can get the better of a coach. Once, I too almost walked on to the field,' joked Hui.

Hui also promised that the long-standing contractual issues hanging heavily over the heads of all coaches at the Sports Institute would be resolved speedily.

'We will make a decision soon. Like I said before, we will take into account the Olympics next year when we make a decision on their new contracts,' Hui said.

The future of Hong Kong's 13-strong elite sports is under some cloud with all coaching staff being contracted only until the end of September. Yesterday they put their troubles behind then as they received their accolades at the Award's 10th anniversary party at the Grand Hyatt.

'I don't want to talk about that. It is not for me to comment on that,' said Chan Chi-choi, head badminton coach at the Sports Institute, soon after he was named Coach of the Year in the senior athletes, team event category.

'I don't want to get into hot water by commenting on what our future might be,' added Tony Choi Yuk-kwan, head SI squash coach, yesterday.

'It is very disappointing and not an ideal situation', said Rene Appel, head windsurfing coach, when six-month contracts were handed out in February. 'When we should be looking ahead to next year's Olympic Games, and then two more years further to the next Asian Games, we find ourselves taking a short-term approach. For sport in general, it is disappointing.'

Appel was not on hand yesterday to receive his Coach of the Year Award - the other winner was Poon Kin-lui, athletics coach for the physically disabled - and also the Distinguished Services Award. But he spoke from the Netherlands where he is with Lee Lai-shan and the Hong Kong squad, who is taking part in a series of European regattas.

'I'm happy and honoured to win the awards,' said Appel, accepting his eighth Coach of the Year title.

A total of 63 coaches received recognition for their tireless work behind the scenes. Among the other main winners were Zheng Kang-zhao (Senior Athletes, team event category), Wong Tak-sum (junior athletes, individual sport) and Stan Tamura (junior athletes, team event).

Awards in the team sport category were not presented. Officials said none of the nominated sports had met the requirements.