Funds for Hong Kong sporting heroes also need to secure their futures
As city basks in Asian Games glory one must remember there is more to sport than just medals, and there needs to be promising second careers for retired athletes
Hong Kong athletes have once again shown their strengths, returning home with eight gold, 18 silver and 20 bronze medals from the Asian Games in Indonesia. Commendable as it is, there is no room for complacency. As we justifiably commit more resources to developing elite sports, there will be greater pressure to win more honours at the Olympics and other world championships.
It appeared that the Hong Kong team was initially struggling to match its record of four years ago, but good news came when our star cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze and her teammates bagged several medals in the final days. The two-week spectacle was wrapped up with the historic victory of the men’s rugby sevens team. The gold medal haul matched the record of the 2010 Games in Guangzhou, and the total number of medals surpassed the 42 at Incheon in 2014.
The performance has saved the face of the government and the delegation, the largest ever with 586 members. But it also fuels calls for more funding for award-winning events, and this is something worthy of careful consideration by the government. The funding for athletes is arguably substantial already and the Hong Kong Sports Institute, which oversees elite sports training, had a budget of HK$558 million the previous financial year. In another boost, the financial secretary has injected an additional HK$5 billion into the Elite Athletes Development Fund, which stands at HK$12.5 billion.
Like it or not, the success of our sports policy is measured by our performance on the international stage. Our only Olympic gold medal was won 22 years ago by home-grown windsurfer Lee Lai-shan. There is always pressure to justify bigger spending with better performances. Although we outshone some in the Asian Games, finishing 13th in the rankings, there is still much room for improvement. Indeed, our silver medals reflect a host of missed chances and warrant serious soul-searching.
There is more to sport than just winning medals. While the government should step up efforts to promote sport for all, there is also a need to better develop the career paths of athletes. This is particularly important if we are to nurture more sporting talent. As veteran player Salom Yiu Kam-shing declared upon the historic victory in the men’s rugby sevens, there are prospects for Hong Kong athletes. But it goes beyond a moment of glory and there needs to be promising second careers for retired athletes.
The next Asian Games is to be held in Hangzhou, the third Chinese city to host the event. The organising committee has pledged a “green, smart, economical and ethical” Games. For the first time, e-sports will become a medal event, and it is to be hoped that the host city as well as the Hong Kong team both perform well.