Sports development is going round in circles as Hong Kong chases Olympic success
Robert Wilson says the government must lead the way in overhauling the static system to move beyond lip service and nurture international-class athletic talent
Hong Kong’s team returned empty-handed from the Olympic Games. It was the territory’s 16th appearance at the Summer Games and on 13 occasions our team has failed to win a medal. Should the community and the government be concerned?
Each of the 38 Hong Kong athletes sent to Rio had reached the qualifying standard set by the International Olympic Committee; so doesn’t this mean they were in with a chance? Well, no; actually, only one had a good chance of a medal. The IOC wants as many countries as possible to compete, and so limits entries from top sporting nations. Most of our team qualified through regional events, not through world championships, and were soon eliminated in Rio.
Billions have been spent on the government-run Hong Kong Sports Institute, but this year it produced only one athlete with a realistic chance of a medal, which evaporated in a collision on the cycling track. The institute currently trains some 300 athletes and wants to raise this to 500, but where will the extra 200 come from, given that sport is severely underdeveloped?
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One world-class athlete is far below what is possible from 7 million people, but better results will require changes to the system. The government must lead the way, but, if there is opposition, changes will not be made.
The principal obstacle to developing community sport and raising standards is the use of public sports facilities for government-organised non-competitive activities. Without a broad-based platform of club-organised competition, those with natural abilities to excel may never even get involved in sport.
The government claims its policy is to develop sport, but there is no published plan for addressing the current shortage of facilities.
Hong Kong’s sole Olympic gold medal [in 1996] was won when the Sports Development Board existed, but since the board was abolished, there has been no formal way for sports organisations to be consulted, or have any input in a planning process, if one existed.
The board was replaced by a non-executive Sports Commission under the home affairs secretary, but this has been ineffective. Its Community Sports Committee has not published any minutes since July 2013 and its Elite Sports Committee has published none.
Albert Einstein defines insanity as, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. For decades, this has defined Hong Kong sport. Whether change will come is up to the government, but vested interests in its departments will be obstacles. Maintaining the status quo will neither serve the interests of the community nor help achieve Hong Kong’s ambitions for international sports success. Those with an interest in raising standards should speak up.
Robert Wilson is the former president of the Hong Kong, China Rowing Association. In 2013 he was awarded a Medal of Honour for contributions to sports development