The rewards of sport are too many for Hong Kong to pass up
Bernard Chan says there are good reasons for all of society to promote an active lifestyle in Hong Kong, not least for the health benefits and the inspiration that success stories bring
Hong Kong professional basketball team the Eastern Long Lions have just won the Asean league. If this sounds surprising, that’s perhaps because it is. Hong Kong is not known for its strength in team sports generally. And probably not many people even realised that we had a professional basketball team. (In case you are wondering, the Asean Basketball League includes teams from outside the Southeast Asian grouping’s member states.)
Eastern Sports Club has high hopes for encouraging the growth of basketball in Hong Kong in the years ahead. If it succeeds, it will be building on Hong Kong’s recent achievements in solo sports.
Since windsurfer Lee Lai-shan’s 1996 Olympic gold medal victory, our city has produced a string of well-known sports heroes. Sarah Lee Wai-sze helped put Hong Kong on the cycling map, as Marco Fu and Ng On-yee have with snooker. Boxer Rex Tso Sing-yu has been back in the news recently after winning an Asian fight of the year award.
The prospects for further development of local sports are good. Government encouragement – which has played a significant role so far – looks likely to continue. Chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has said she hopes to enhance the work of the Hong Kong Sports Institute and move forward with the planned Kai Tak Sports Park.
There are good reasons for the public and private sectors to help develop our sports infrastructure and talent.
One obvious benefit – and surely the most important – is that high-profile sports events and local stars’ successes help get the rest of us active. I have been involved in the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker as a hiker since 1993 and as event chairman since 1999. In the early days, over 70 per cent of participants were expatriates, while today many locals take part. I have also noticed that more younger people are out on our hiking trails, jogging and doing other exercise.
Whether we are schoolchildren, middle-aged or elderly, sport and exercise can make our lives better.
Sport is also becoming a surprisingly big business opportunity. On the mainland, there has been a very noticeable growth in sports facilities and clubs, sporting events and the sportswear and equipment market. This has coincided with the campaign against conspicuous consumption by officials and the business leaders they mix with. It seems that while expensive watches and restaurants are less popular, sports-related activities are seen as healthy and acceptable. Whatever the reason, sports goods retailing and outdoor facilities have attracted far higher levels of investment in recent years.
Hong Kong has also seen significant growth in this consumer sector. More and more sportswear stores are selling genuine items – like serious hiking boots and jogging and cycling accessories – rather than sports-inspired fashion.
Sport also, of course, represents a major growth area for the tourism industry. Just a few days after the Rugby Sevens, Hong Kong hosted the lower-profile but popular UCI Track Cycling World Championships at the velodrome in Tseung Kwan O. We will be seeing more and more top international events like this in the years ahead.
Not least, sport can help bring us together as a community. Many of us still remember the excitement when Lee Lai-shan came back from the 1996 Olympics – it was as if the whole of Hong Kong had won a medal. Our sports heroes inspire us and make us proud.
It is hard to measure the effect this has, or to put a value on it. But our society has been seriously divided in recent years, and so many issues easily become politicised or controversial. A local athlete’s victory is something we can all celebrate.
So sport deserves a prominent place in the next government’s agenda. It will not solve our housing, environmental or welfare problems. But as a personal and family activity, it offers all of us ways to make ourselves physically and mentally healthier. As part of the growing leisure and travel industries, it opens up opportunities to diversify our economy.
It even provides us with some inspiring local heroes who can help bring us together as a community.
Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council