Teach Hong Kong’s bookish children a love of sports

Ken Chu says our schools are best placed to help students and their parents learn to appreciate that sport is not only good for health and fitness, but is also big business globally

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 1:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 November, 2016, 6:45pm

Have parents in Hong Kong today ever reflected on how much time there is every day for children to exercise, after reading, homework and cram-school tutorials, let alone develop an interest in sports?

Hong Kong’s sports sector faces many challenges. Insufficient support and lack of training grounds and facilities for athletes are clearly among them. How to foster a sustainable development for Hong Kong’s sports is the ultimate challenge.

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At the very least, there are three prerequisites to fostering sustainable development of sports: a substantial group of sports enthusiasts, a continual supply of new athletes, and participants in sports activities and events.

Today, the community, schools and parents in Hong Kong generally do not see a sports career as one with any prospects or a lucrative choice. This is understandable because there are very few regular major professional sporting events generating sizeable ticket sales in this city – and that is part of the problem.

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If society, schools and parents do not see any opportunities or prospects in sports, they will not encourage children to take up sports or groom athletes for serious tournaments. Meanwhile, lacklustre matches fail to attract large crowds of fans and followers, and so commercial sponsors and investors stay away. A lack of money pouring into the sector in turn curtails its growth, which discourages schools and parents from identifying and grooming talent with potential. With a lack of professional athletes, sports cannot flourish, and this again deters investment in the sector. We are stuck in a vicious cycle.

To break through this cycle, Hong Kong schools must support sports development

To break through this cycle, Hong Kong schools must support sports development.

At present, most schools focus only on students’ academic performance. Parents are just concerned about their children’s exam scores. Many of our students are “force fed” lessons from as early as kindergarten, and are left with hardly any time for sports. In secondary schools, our teenagers often see their physical education classes reduced to make way for extra tutorials.

Meanwhile, due to limited space, most schools in Hong Kong do not have a standard-sized basketball court or football pitch. Nor do they have enough fitness and gym equipment for students. Some schools do not even have space for students to enjoy rope-jumping.

Our parents and schools must realise that young children can derive enormous benefits from sports, through which they can not only build a fit and healthy body and mind – some scientists believe physical activities can boost children’s cognitive mind – a good character and self-confidence, but also learn self-discipline and interpersonal skills. All these are the life skills essential to children’s personal growth and career development.

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It is in children’s nature to play, and our schools should expose them to a variety of sports and physical activities.

Therefore, schools need to increase the number of PE lessons for students. Also, our universities should admit new students with outstanding performance and huge potential in sports.

One sport Hong Kong should promote is soccer, arguably the most popular sport in the world. It requires no expensive tools or equipment – just a ball and a pair of rubber shoes. And, with China aiming to become a strong soccer nation, talented Hong Kong players will have an opportunity to be part of this national drive.

The sporting industry is huge worldwide and a contributor to our economy. It encompasses a wide range of businesses, such as sporting goods, design and manufacturing, centre management, event promotion and so on. Major sporting events can also boost our tourism and restaurant businesses.

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In 2014, global sports sponsorships grew by 13.2 per cent, higher than the average global gross domestic product growth rate of 2.8 per cent. The industry is expected to grow further.

Last but not least, sports has the power to elevate people’s spirits and promote solidarity within society. Just look at how people around the world follow and react to the World Cup that comes around every four years.

In light of this, our government should spearhead efforts to promote sports development by investing more resources. China takes the development of sports very seriously. In June, the State Council published a nationwide fitness plan for the five years from 2016, with the aim of motivating Chinese people to exercise more to improve their fitness and health. Isn’t it time for people in Hong Kong to start changing their attitude towards sports?

Dr Ken Chu is group chairman and CEO of the Mission Hills Group and a National Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference