'Games events are not a good reason to disrupt operation' Leading sports officials and coaches are up in arms at the 'flawed' plan to relocate the Hong Kong Sports Institute so equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing Olympics - should they be awarded to the city - can be held at the elite Sha Tin academy. They are against a Hong Kong Government and Jockey Club plan to close the Sports Institute (SI) on January 1, 2007, for two years, so facilities, ranging from a 20,000-seater stadium and an air-conditioned indoor riding hall, can be built to accommodate the Olympic dressage and show-jumping events. 'We have no problem with the Beijing Olympics having an event in Hong Kong,' said Chris Perry, head rowing coach at the SI. 'What we are against is the disruption this will cause the elite athletes. Their training programme and indeed their day-to-day lives will be disrupted and will this be a good thing as they prepare for 2008?' The government's plan - without any input from the sporting community - is to move the institute lock, stock and barrel to Tsuen Wan, for two to three years, before returning to upgraded facilities at Sha Tin. The proposed new site is a holiday camp at Tso Kung Tam run by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. A six-storey building will house the residential hostel for scholarship athletes, catering and back-up facilities, but apart from a gymnasium there are virtually no facilities for most of the 13 sports in the elite training programme. After a visit to Tso Kung Tam last week, SI chief executive Chung Pak-kwong admitted yesterday there was widespread concern among top coaches and leading athletes. 'Everyone is worried. There is concern about closing the SI and moving us to another venue for the duration. This will affect our preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2009 East Asian Games, which Hong Kong will host, and also the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou,' Chung said. Sports officials who were taken on the site visit where the proposed SI will be set up were less than impressed, especially at the inconvenience it will create in travelling and the lack of facilities. One official described it as a 'grotty old place'. There are also fears the relocation could become permanent with the Jockey Club needing space to expand its operations in Sha Tin so year-round racing can be held. It is understood the two soccer grass pitches and the golf driving range at the SI have been earmarked for permanent use by the Jockey Club once the Olympics are over. 'We have been given a guarantee by the government that after the Olympics, the SI will be back at Sha Tin,' assured Chung. Bob Wilson, president of the Hong Kong Rowing Association, said that while there was no general opposition to the Jockey Club's expansion plans, there was no justification in asking the entire elite academy to vacate its premises. 'This plan is flawed and detrimental to the training programme of the athletes. Athletes are bound to drop out and supporting staff, most of whom now live around Sha Tin and have built their lives around the SI, are bound to resign,' said Wilson. 'There is no need to have an equestrian facility right next to a Jockey Club. At the Sydney Games, the equestrian events were held in a temporary facility,' said Perry. The International Olympic Committee, which met last month in Berlin, delayed its decision on whether to move the equestrian events from Beijing to Hong Kong after meeting stiff opposition from the International Equestrian Federation. A decision is expected in July when the IOC meets in Singapore. 'We have no objection at the Games' equestrian events coming to Hong Kong, but this is not a good reason to disrupt the operation at the Sports Institute where you have around 600 athletes all training with the once-in-a-lifetime dream of taking part at the Olympics on Chinese soil,' stressed Wilson. 'We also have no objection to the Jockey Club expanding its facilities so they can have more racing and generate more money for the community. But the repercussions of moving the SI from its present home will extend beyond the Beijing Olympic Games,' added Wilson. Beijing Olympic organisers want to move the equestrian events to Hong Kong because they say it would be hard to establish an equine disease-free zone around Beijing. Seventeen equine diseases are prevalent in Beijing and other mainland cities. 'We are all for Hong Kong getting an Olympic event,' added Perry. 'But this should not be at the cost of our local athletes. If Hong Kong wants to be part of the 2008 Olympics, and wants to hold it in Sha Tin, then they should build a new Sports Institute for our own athletes.'