Premier League's viability in doubt as HKFA deadline looms

Lack of clubs applying for professional division is causing HKFA anxiety, with financial constraints cited for hesitation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 10:38pm

The viability of the inaugural Hong Kong Premier League, due to be launched in September, is hanging in the balance, with several clubs reluctant to commit to the new format.

Prospective teams have been given until the end of this month to submit their applications to the Hong Kong Football Association for club licences.

FA officials are not sure they can secure the minimum eight teams needed to form the league. So far, only six teams are likely starters: Kitchee, South China, Eastern Salon, Sun Pegasus, Yuen Long and Yokohama FC.

Citizen were the first current top-tier team to opt out, announcing their decision after their final league match of the season against South China two weeks ago.

We only want teams in the Premier League that want to be in it and that are prepared to become more professional
Mark Sutcliffe

Royal Southern said on Sunday they would not join the league, citing financial constraints.

It is believed Sunray Cave Sun Hei are also unlikely to apply, while BC Rangers have said they will field a team next season, but were not sure whether it would be in the top or second tier competition.

Second Division champions Tai Po have won promotion to the Premier League, but club secretary Chan Ping played down the possibility of them appearing in the top flight. "We are a responsible club and are trying to secure sufficient commercial sponsorships before we can start in the Premier League," said Chan yesterday. "In the end, if we cannot guarantee our financial situation, we have no choice but to give up the promotion rights."

FA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe admitted they were still waiting for confirmation. "That's the target [to have a minimum eight teams in the Premier League], but it's not for me to second guess what the clubs will do," he said. "We only want teams in the Premier League that want to be in it and that are prepared to become more professional."

Sun Hei boss Chow Man-leung said yesterday the sudden withdrawal of Southern had made an impact on their own position.

"We are still working on the financial side of joining the Premier League but, unfortunately, a possible deal with a new major sponsor fell through recently," said Chow. Mainland beverage firm Sunray Cave have told Sun Hei they will not be continuing their sponsorship.

BC Rangers director Philip Lee Fai-lap said yesterday that the FA had done nothing to help ease the financial burden of clubs despite millions of dollars coming in through the government's Project Phoenix.

"All the clubs are losing money, but what has the association done to help us?" said Lee. "We have been asking to start matches in a double-header format and to cut the number of support staff on match days to minimise the cost, but all this fell on deaf ears."

Lee cited a match at their home ground, Sham Shui Po Sports Ground, which cost them over HK$30,000, but where income was just a few thousand dollars.

"We will definitely have a team next season, but whether they remain in the First Division or join the Premier League is still under discussion by the management," he said.