Officials need to ensure better public access to sports venues

Officials are expected to take good care of public resources and facilities. Regrettably, they have once again been put to shame by the Ombudsman, who found serious flaws in the way the city's sport venues are managed. The damning investigation reports have not just embarrassed the departments concerned, they also underline the urgent need for more sensitivity and a better administration of the land and facilities that are heavily subsidised by taxpayers.

This is not the first time the question of public access to government venues and sports clubs has been put under the spotlight. Last year the Leisure and Cultural Services Department came under fire for a series of problems over venue bookings, including rampant online touting and the lack of penalty for groups that do not show up for their reserved slots. A closer examination by the Ombudsman exposed further systemic management deficiencies, so much so that the department is tantamount to condoning abuses from the watchdog's perspective. For example, it was discovered that touts can exploit the system by not showing up for the soccer pitch reserved, thereby allowing pre-arranged users on standby to take up the slot for free. Thankfully, the criticisms have not fallen on deaf ears. The department immediately pledged a package of measures to plug the loopholes.

But the Home Affairs Bureau appears to be less responsive when challenged by the watchdog. The bureau had no mechanism to ensure that private recreational clubs, which only paid nominal land premiums, would open their facilities to schools and welfare groups as required in the land lease. In response, the bureau said clubs would be required to open up for at least 50 hours a month. Given that land is a precious public resource, the limited access is still disproportionate to the benefits enjoyed by the clubs. If the government is serious about promoting sports for all in Hong Kong, it should ensure wider public access to sports venues and facilities.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Better access to sports venues