Participation in school sports competitions is greater than ever and that means schools will soon be facing increased entry costs. Entries for secondary school competitions (Hong Kong Island and Kowloon district) are up 6.6 per cent from last year, while there has been a 10.3 per cent increase in the primary school category. One of the most notable examples was table-tennis, where entries rose 35 per cent. Meanwhile, a huge demand for places in the All-Hong Kong (Jing Ying) cross-country race forced organisers to limit entries to those runners who excelled in their Grade A district inter-school championships. More teams are taking part in rugby, thanks to the creation of a new Second Division. 'The increase when compared with 2000/01 is 14.1 per cent for secondary and 11.4 per cent for primary. This is remarkable, as the number of students in general is decreasing due to the shrinking birthrate,' said Hong Kong Schools Sports Federation (HKSSF) secretary-general Silas Chiang Tak-cheung. The trend is a result of the enthusiasm for sport created by the Olympics. Another factor is the support provided by the government and sponsors. 'The continuous promotion of school sports by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department has prompted the sharp increase,' said Chiang. A total of 265 schools entered 5,200 teams this year, 270 more than last year. About 40,000 athletes will have taken part in more than 8,000 events by the end of the school year. Supported by the Bank of China, Hong Kong, HKSSF has been able to expand regular sports, while new events such as beach volleyball and ten-pin bowling have been introduced. But this passion for inter-school activities means more funding is needed. 'The federation has faced tremendous pressure in seeking sufficient venues to meet the demand and, to secure sufficient funds to subsidise the increased programme cost,' said Chiang. 'Increased demand for impartial officials and judges will inevitably prompt higher entry fees. The more impartial officials are involved, the higher the cost. Schools will have to prepare to meet such increases.' Schools were not too enthusiastic about the news. 'If costs are going to go up, then we, as the customers, will demand a better service,' said Mark Williams, football coach at West Island School. Moreover, communication problems have caused some frustration among participants. 'Positives this year have been the refereeing, which I feel has improved, and the HKSSF website, which is regularly updated and very informative,' said Williams. 'Negatives have been the pitches. Happy Valley for the [football] final was a joke and we played one game on astro-turf where [studs] were not allowed. We were not prepared. HKSSF did not inform us that the astro-turf pitch at Lok Fu did not allow [studs].'