Private sports clubs in Hong Kong must play game on rents
Facilities that charge exorbitant fees while occupying government land for free or at a token premium, should truly open up to the public, pay more or be put to better use
That some exclusive sports clubs are still charging exorbitant membership fees while occupying government land for free or at a token premium is nothing new. What upsets the people most is that the problem remains unresolved years after it was put under the spotlight. The outrage has become even stronger in recent years in the wake of the city’s quest for more land to meet the ever-increasing demand for affordable housing.
Credit goes to Green Sense for its timely reminder that taxpayers are still footing such sweet deals dating from the colonial days. According to the environment watchdog, 27 private sports clubs occupying some 300 hectares were exempted by the government from paying nearly HK$400 million in rent over the past year. Although the estimates were questioned by individual clubs, it remains a fact that a substantial amount of land revenue has been forgone under the concessionary policy.
Adding to the dismay is limited public access to such facilities. Even though the venues are required to open up to non-members more often following reviews, the situation still leaves much to be desired. According to the group, access to some facilities is restricted to office hours, meaning few people can genuinely benefit.
It is true that some venues have invested substantially in their facilities, without which certain sports might not have the opportunity to develop in the city. Despite commitments in providing greater public excess, these venues remain largely the private playgrounds of the privileged.
Compared to the amount of land premium forgone over the years, the benefits for the wider community are woefully disproportional. That explains why there are growing calls to the government to convert part of the golf course in Fanling into housing.
We hope the government was serious when it pledged to come up with a raft of measures to ensure sports clubs would better meet the aims of supporting sports development and optimising the use of public resources. If the rent subsidies are no longer justified from the perspective of value for money, there is no reason not to explore the feasibility of turning some of the sites into better use.