'Football will die' in Hong Kong without funding under Project Phoenix

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 12:41am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 12:43am

Hong Kong Football Association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe has warned that soccer "would die" if the government stopped funding Project Phoenix.

At a forum opened to the public last night, the high-ranking official appealed for support from all soccer stakeholders to continue the project when its first three-year tenure comes to an end in October.

But Hong Kong legislator Leung Kwok-hung, better known as "Long Hair", who is an avid soccer fan, was not moved by Sutcliffe's pleas as one of the forum's speakers.

Football is dead in the water if the government does not continue to fund Project Phoenix
Mark Sutcliffe

"It is very difficult for the HKFA to convince the public that Project Phoenix is successful," said the lawmaker. "In fact, the whole thing is just government propaganda to show what they call the Hong Kong spirit. This is all politics and in the end it will fail."

Leung said that when in the Legislative Council, he would not support continuing the project.

Launched in 2011, the project has cost taxpayers HK$20 million a year to revive the sport at all levels and will be reviewed later this year before the government decides whether or not to continue its support.

Sutcliffe stressed the project had made great progress over the last two years and that it was worth persevering with.

"Many tangible things will start to happen if we get the snowball rolling now," he said. "If the government withdraws its funding at the end of October, I go back to the United Kingdom; all my colleagues who are brought in under the Project Phoenix lose their jobs.

"Everything stops dead. Football is dead in the water if the government does not continue to fund Project Phoenix.

"We should forget about politics. Without continued subsidies to football, it will die."

He said there had been a 20 per cent increase in the number of participants among youth players under the project.

The Hong Kong under-18 team won an East Asian Football Federation tournament in Guam last year.

The under-16 team also qualified for the AFC competition finals in Thailand last summer. At club level, there will be a team in the AFC Champions League for the first time ever.