Imports like star table tennis duo could lift sporting standards, says official Hong Kong hopes to lure more mainland athletes and coaches to the city, government officials said yesterday. Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Lolly Chiu Yuen-chu said the government was examining the option as a way of improving the city's sporting credentials. She said the Sports Commission, which has been set up to replace the Sports Development Board, would discuss the issue next month. Ms Chiu said the commission, headed by Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho Chi-ping, would map out a long-term strategy for sports development in Hong Kong. It would also study how to relocate resources. Dr Ho said mainland 'imports' could include coaches and trainers, but stressed the idea was still being studied. The news came after Ko Lai-chak and Li Ching, members of the Hong Kong table tennis team, won the silver medal in the men's doubles at the Athens Olympics. Both were members of the Chinese national squad before resettling in Hong Kong four years ago. Athletes, coaches and lecturers from the mainland are being sought by Hong Kong sports clubs and universities under a talent importation scheme. Figures released by the Immigration Department show that 98 applications for the scheme were received from the recreation and sports sector in the past year, comprising 2.2 per cent of applications from all sectors. The sports sector is seeking athletes, football players, coaches, tennis training partners and university lecturers under the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals. The scheme, aimed at improving the city's competitiveness, was introduced in July last year. With no quota or sector restrictions, it gives organisations greater flexibility in importing mainlanders whose skills cannot be found in Hong Kong. Those who come to Hong Kong are allowed to bring their spouses and children, but will not be granted permanent residency unless they stay for seven years. In the 12 months to the end of July, the department received 4,377 applications, of which 81 per cent, or 3,562, had been approved. About 69 per cent of the applications had come from the tertiary education and research development sector. But the department said it had no detailed statistics on how many applications lodged by the sports sector had been approved. Martin Lam Chun-ying, general secretary of the Hong Kong Football Association, said three of its affiliated clubs - Kitchee, South China and Citizen - had imported players through the scheme. Mr Lam said clubs now faced fewer hurdles when bringing in talented players from the mainland as the admission scheme clearly set out the required procedures. But Leung Mee-lee, head and associate professor of Baptist University's department of physical education, said importation procedures should be further relaxed to attract more sporting expertise. She said Hong Kong lagged behind countries in the region such as Singapore, which immediately offered permanent residency to imported sporting talent.