2016 in review – Hong Kong women break new ground with Eastern coach Chan Yuen-ting and rugby World Cup squad

Although the Rio Olympics fail to generate a medal, athletes such as snooker ace Marco Fu and badminton star Ng Ka-long strike gold in other events

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 December, 2016, 11:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 December, 2016, 11:34pm

Hong Kong soccer lags way behind the world standard, but 2016 proved to be an important year for the sport, thanks to Eastern coach Chan Yuen-ting.

After leading Eastern to the Premier League championship in May, Chan became the first woman to accomplish such a feat as recognised by Guinness World Records.

The 28-year-old was named Hong Kong Football Association coach of the year, and awarded a Bronze Bauhinia Star in the government’s annual honours list. She was also included in the BBC’s top 100 women of the year and then named Asian Football Confederation woman coach of the year.

“I don’t think I’m a very good role model, but what I did is a message for [young women], if they’re really interested in football to chase their dream.

“It’s an example for them to keep fighting and chase your dream and you can get what you want.

The women’s rugby team also shone a light on Hong Kong after qualifying for the Women’s Rugby World Cup for the first time.

“This is a massive, massive statement about what Hong Kong rugby is about across the board,” said Dai Rees, the HKRU’s general manager of rugby performance.

In the summer, all eyes were on cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze’s attempt to win gold at the Rio Olympics after her bronze medal heroics in London in 2012.

But a clash of wheels cost her in the keirin where she eventually finished seventh and then, battered and bruised, Lee finished sixth in the women’s sprint, after being beaten by eventual champion Kristina Vogel of Germany in the quarter-finals.

Now 29, Lee is still wrestling with a decision to compete in Tokyo in 2020. She will face two major challenges in 2017, competing in front of the home fans for the first time at the track world championships in April and then representing Hong Kong at the National Games in Tianjin in September.

Hong Kong may have returned empty-handed from Rio, but 19-year-old Siobhan Haughey became the first swimmer to reach the semi-finals at an Olympic Games, finishing joint 13th in the 200m freestyle after smashing the Hong Kong record in the heats.

And a new star emerged in Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching, who became the first golfer to qualify for the Olympics – and as an amateur. She lived the dream in Rio, finishing 37th in a field of 60. The 22-year-old then got to the last stage of qualifying for a place on the LPGA Tour but her professional dreams will have to wait.

After years of playing in the shadows of their mainlander counterparts, home-grown talents in table tennis and badminton finally made major breakthroughs.

Ng Ka-long’s victory in the Hong Kong Badminton Open, coupled with Wong Chun-ting’s bronze medal in the table tennis World Cup, proved a milestone in the development of local sports. Both sports had been dominated by former mainland China players for many years.

Eastern may have won the league but a fiasco over who would play in the 2017 AFC Champions League – them or Kitchee – overshadowed their achievement.

Kitchee accused HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe of an administrative blunder in the case and threatened to set up an arbitration tribunal.

The year ended in style with snooker player Marco Fu Ka-chun winning the Coral Scottish Open in December. The 38-year-old, in his 18th season on the professional tour, won his third ranking tournament and a cheque for £70,000.

In rugby, a year that saw Hong Kong men’s team make it to the final of the world series qualifying competition at April’s Hong Kong Sevens ended with Jo Hull’s women booking their first ever trip to the Women’s Rugby World Cup thanks to their 45-7 victory over Fiji.

The Asia Rugby Championship also saw progress, with the 15s stamping their authority over South Korea with two victories, although two losses to Japan showed Hong Kong are still very much second in Asia.

The Olympic repechage tournaments in June saw the women fail to make it out of their pool, while the men lost to Samoa 31-12 in the quarter-finals.

Hong Kong posted a dominant win in the Asia Rugby Sevens Series in September and October in what would be Gareth Baber’s last games as coach before taking over from Ben Ryan at Fiji.

Anna Richards’ women were consistent if not brilliant throughout their campaign, finishing third overall.

In cricket, it was a wet and winning start in 2016 as a series against Scotland in January was all but wiped out except for a single match won by the local side.

The inaugural Hong Kong T20 Blitz was launched with much fanfare and hope in May but, again, the weather interfered and a big-name such as former Australia captain Michael Clarke was only allowed a cameo appearance before heavy rain forced the three-day event to end with a day to spare.

Still, the format of a franchise-based tournament in Hong Kong was embraced by all andCricket Hong Kong is preparing for the second edition in March 2017 with five teams and renewed hope.

On the field, the Hong Kong team were beaten on a tour of Ireland and a T20 series in Australia but the squad emerged with much credit and batsman Nizakat Khan, in particular, stood out with two centuries against top-class opponents.

Additional reporting by Sam Agars and Nazvi Careem