Game over for 170 elite athletes

Tennis and athletics to lose status at institute after appeals fall on deaf ears

Tennis and athletics are about to be kicked out of the Sports Institute after failing in their appeals to remain as elite sports - dealing a blow to Hong Kong's medal hopes for the 2009 East Asian Games.

The two sports appealed against the imminent loss of their elite status 13 days ago, but sources close to the Sports Institute say their pleas have been rejected.

They will lose their support at the institute - including coaching staff, training facilities, sports science and medicine as well as finance for overseas training and competition - when their contracts expire on March 31.

More than 170 athletes from the two sports programmes will be seriously affected as they set realistic goals for the 2009 games in Hong Kong and more ambitious targets such as for next year's Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou.

'The panel has proposed to the Sports Institute board that it should stick to the results of the two-year elite vote review,' said one source, condemning the two sports who have failed to meet the performance criteria.

'Unless the government's Elite Sports Committee has different views, the result will not be changed.'

The committee will meet next month to endorse the board's decision. As its vice-chairman, Professor Frank Fu, also sat on the appeal panel it is unlikely the committee will overrule the decision.

Head tennis coach Stan Tamura said yesterday he had heard nothing about the outcome of the appeal, but if they were axed from the institute he said arrangements should be made to help minimise the disruption to athletes.

'Whatever the decision, the interests of the athletes should come first,' said Tamura. 'If a decision is to be made in mid-March they cannot just ask the athletes to leave the Sports Institute in such a short period of time. There needs to be some transitional arrangements.

'We are preparing for a number of major games in the next few years and our training programme will be affected without the elite vote support from the institute.'

Tenpin bowling also failed to achieve the required scores during the review period but it will be granted a grace period of two years and allowed to stay as, unlike tennis and athletics, this is the first time it has failed to meet the required standard.

Hong Kong Tenpin Bowling Congress chairwoman Vivien Fung Lau Chiang-chu is deeply concerned about the sport's future.

'The next two years will be crucial if our appeal fails because it will be our turn to face the axe in April 2009,' she said. 'Since we also need to compete at the East Asian Games in December 2009 we must stay in the programme, or we need to identify other resources to make up the time gap if we are out in April 2009. This will put an extra financial burden on the association.'

Fung said although a final decision would not be known until March she had already told the coaches to be well prepared for the next two years in order to score sufficient marks to make the standard.

'Our sport does not have too many high scoring events, making our life even more difficult,' she said.

Tenpin bowling missed out by a mere 0.25 points on the required nine to meet the standard needed to maintain elite status. Points are earned according to how athletes perform in designated high-level events throughout the year.