South China decision a blow to Hong Kong soccer
The reasons behind the move by one of the city’s oldest and most popular teams to drop out of the Premier League are unclear. The team’s parent body, South China Athletic Association, owes fans a full explanation
Hong Kong’s FA cup final this season saw two of the city’s top soccer teams compete in an exciting match, before a packed and partisan crowd. It was a good advertisement for Hong Kong soccer. But one of those teams, South China, has now announced it will drop out of the Premier League. The decision has shocked fans and dealt a blow to the sport in Hong Kong. South China, who lost the cup final 2-1 to Kitchee, are one of the city’s oldest and most popular teams. They have a rich history, stretching back a century, and have won 41 top-flight championships. The Premier League will not seem the same without them. The reasons for the move are unclear. The club has stated it wishes to focus on developing young players. But that is not convincing. Playing for a team challenging for honours in the Premier League is surely more conducive to youth development. The decision follows the departure of the team’s convenor Wallace Cheung Kwong-yung. He pumped HK$50 million into the club over the last three seasons, but it has not won any silverware. Cheung stated he was willing to continue next season, but did not receive support – financially or otherwise – from the team’s parent body, South China Athletic Association. It owes fans a full explanation of the reasons for the decision.
Hong Kong soccer needs to develop and to raise standards. The government has injected tens of millions of dollars, much of which have gone to the Football Association. Taxpayers are entitled to expect tangible results. There are some positive developments. A new training centre is due to open in Tseung Kwan O, providing a much-needed base for the national team. If plans for the new Kai Tak sports complex are approved, it will also have a modern home ground. Steps are being taken to improve youth development, which is of critical importance. And consideration is being given to ways to tap into the rise of soccer in the mainland, following President Xi Jinping’s call for improvements. But there is a long way to go. The FA, the clubs and everyone involved in Hong Kong soccer needs to pull together. A good start would be for South China to reverse its decision and rejoin the Premier League.