The plan for hosting the 2009 East Asian Games in Hong Kong is modest, realistic - and most importantly - a great place to start in Hong Kong's pursuit of becoming a regional sporting venue. The $171 million proposal does not call for any new facilities, instead suggesting minor renovations to more than 20 existing sports grounds and staging areas, from the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium to the 500-seat Tseung Kwan O Sports Centre. No one could accuse Hong Kong of overshooting in its bid for the East Asian Games, which the city won yesterday after a last-minute withdrawal by Mongolia. The event usually draws about 2,000 athletes from 11 members - a fraction of the size and far less prestigious than the Asian Games or All-China Games. But hosting the East Asian Games could be just the ticket. A big success with even this relatively small event would boost the city's confidence and promote public interest in sport. It could also give a push to long-considered plans to build a stadium on the Kai Tak airport site and help awaken the political interest needed to implement proposed changes to Hong Kong's sports promotion bodies. Yesterday's announcement comes after a string of sporting event embarrassments - major and minor - for Hong Kong. Organisers of the Salem Open, an international tennis event Hong Kong hosted in Victoria Park for 13 years, last year announced they would move the tournament to Beijing. The American National Basketball Association regularly passes up Hong Kong as an exhibition venue in favour of Japan and the mainland. In 2000, Hong Kong officials confident of winning a bid for the 2006 Asian Games were shocked to find that Doha, the capital of Qatar, had won by lobbying for votes from neighbouring states. To a great extent, the government recognises that the local sporting scene falls short of standards held by other international cities. A consultation paper released last year proposed establishing a fund for staging big athletic events and competitions. It would underwrite basic costs, such as venue rental and marketing, leaving more funds for the athletes' prize money and raising organisers' profit margins. The paper also suggested creating district-based sports clubs and a body to oversee sports policy and funding. The government now spends almost $2.5 billion a year on sports, much of it going to maintain and staff sporting facilities. The plans do not call for new funding but rather for redeployment of the money already being spent. To the extent that funds would be channelled towards promoting interest in sport and developing expertise on managing big events, this could well be the right direction. As for facilities, the competition worldwide and within the region is keen. Our multibillion-dollar stadium - in part because of noise restrictions in the surrounding neighbourhood - is not considered adequate for mega-events, either athletic or musical. Some in Hong Kong have proposed a 60,000 seat multipurpose stadium in Kowloon, on the now little-used site formerly occupied by the old airport. The hosting of the East Asian Games could provide the chance to look seriously at the costs and benefits of building such a stadium. Provided the games are well organised and come off smoothly, they could also be the catalyst Hong Kong needs to get serious about its sports promotion policies. The government does expect to lose money on the East Asian Games - almost $90 million. Yet, with average ticket prices estimated to be about $40 and an itemised budget already made available to the public, they also have the potential to be the sort of feel-good event any city needs from time to time.