A lucrative incentive scheme for local athletes has been expanded to reward those who excel at the East Asian Games in Macau next month. The Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI) and Hang Seng Bank will continue to recognise outstanding achievements by Hong Kong athletes at major sporting events from 2005 to 2008, officials said. The Hang Seng Athlete Incentive Awards Scheme will make cash payments to Hong Kong athletes who win medals at the forthcoming 10th National Games, the fourth East Asian Games, and the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing. Hang Seng has been sponsoring the scheme for the Olympics, the Paralympics and the National Games since 1996. To date, more than $5.6 million has been awarded to 39 medallists. This is the first time that the programme will cover the East Asian Games. The bank's sponsorship deal involves matching all cash incentives offered by the HKSI on a dollar-for-dollar basis. 'To win a medal at one of the major sporting events requires a lot of hard work and dedication,' said HKSI chairman Eric Li. 'It is important that athletes' achievements are recognised by the community. This incentive scheme shows that Hong Kong cares about its athletes and I would like to thank Hang Seng Bank and other supporters of the scheme for their generosity.' Recent successes achieved by local athletes persuaded Hang Seng to expand the scheme to include the East Asian Games, said the bank's vice-chairman and chief executive Raymond Or. 'Hong Kong's athletes have achieved outstanding results in international competitions in recent years. We understand that they work very hard every day to prepare themselves for these sporting challenges. Their perseverance and determination to be the best deserves our commendation,' said Mr Or. Athletes were pleased to hear about the new incentive. 'Athletes make many sacrifices in order to excel in their chosen sport and it is heartwarming to know that our efforts are being recognised,' said wheelchair fencer Yu Chui-yee. Top windsurfer Chan Wai-kei said athletes deserved encouragement. 'We have made a strong commitment to focus on preparing for major events in order to be ready for the challenges ahead. This scheme gives us a boost,' said Chan.