The handpicking of political and business elites for honorary titles by the Hong Kong government each year is arguably of little significance to the man in the street. But what sets this year’s honours list apart is the inclusion of dozens of athletes and coaches and hundreds of unsung heroes in fighting the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic. Their recognition has made the award system more relevant. Among the record 899 recipients are more than 30 sports figures, a reflection of the city’s outstanding performance at last year’s Tokyo Olympic Games and Paralympics. Fencer Edgar Cheung Ka-long, the first Hong Kong man to win an Olympics gold medal; double silver swimmer Siobhan Haughey; bronze-winning track cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze and cycling team head coach Shen Jinkang were among the 28 people given the Silver Bauhinia Star awards. The Bronze Bauhinia Star was awarded to Leung Yuk-wing, a veteran boccia player who won six medals in five editions of the Paralympic Games. Women’s table tennis team members Doo Hoi-kem, Minnie Soo Wai-yam and Lee Ho-ching, who took home a bronze at the Tokyo Games, were each awarded a medal of honour, as was karate queen and bronze medallist Grace Lau Mo-sheung. The government awards for athletes are probably no match for the glory and excitement of standing on podiums, but they offer another dimension to celebrate sports achievements. This is not just a recognition of the athletic excellence and sportsmanship of individual figures, but also their positive influence on the wider society. Their perseverance and commitment have inspired many in times of adversity. Separately, a total of 493 people were commended for their significant contributions in fighting the coronavirus. The recognition of athletes and those who are battling the pandemic have offered another perspective to an award system that is unfortunately often overshadowed by politics. The tradition of rewarding retired officials, politicians, business and influential figures may well continue, but the system should reach out to others to enhance its credibility and relevance to the community.