Tennis, the ‘game for rich’, casts its talent net wider to find Hong Kong talent
Governing body takes aim at schoolkids from low-income families in bid to develop sport at grassroots level as it returns to Sports Institute
Tennis in Hong Kong has long been seen as an elite pastime, but the sport’s governing body is trying to change that by targeting natural athletes from low-income families in a bid to boost the number of players who make it to the elite level.
Chris Lai, the Hong Kong Tennis Association’s chief executive, welcomed the return of tennis into the Hong Kong Sports Institute, but is pinning hopes for the future on a new programme that’s introducing the sport to physically gifted school kids in districts perhaps not traditionally associated with the sport in the city.
Tennis returned to the HKSI last month after seven years in the wilderness having lost its elite status in 2008. Four players will join as scholarship athletes, three in the senior full-time category – Lynn Zhang Ling (pictured), Jack Wong Hong-kit, Andrew Li Hei-yin – plus Ng Kwan-yau in the junior full-time category.
“Getting back into the Hong Kong Sports Institute is great. It will mean we will have more funding, and more players can benefit by having access to the courts and other facilities like gym, physiotherapy and nutritionists,” said Lai, chief executive of the Hong Kong Tennis Association.“But tennis is still regarded more as an upper- or upper-middle class sport in Hong Kong, in the sense that it is not easy to get public courts. In this light, it is crucial our grassroots development programme – Tennis Rocks, which we started last year, is a success,” Lai said.
The district-based development programme targets kids aged from six to eight years old from low-income families. Three districts have already come on board – Tuen Mun, Yau Ma Tei and Kwun Tong – with 150 children in the scheme. More districts are in line to join.“Tennis Rocks has strong implications that it will have a big impact on tennis in the future. We have picked 50 kids in each district primarily from low-income families and from the ages of six to eight based on physical attributes such as the tallest, fastest or physically more well-built. These kids generally must have the physical attributes to be a good athlete,” Lai said.
“We will provide court facilities, free training and equipment for a number of years. The purpose is to reach out to the masses in the hope of having a few coming through as full-time players in the next five to 10 years.
“The bigger our pool is, the higher our chances of having more full-time players in the future. We view this as an important long-term strategy to develop full-time players.”
Lai also admits he hopes the prospect of a professional tennis career might appeal more to youngsters without the options that the current crop generally have.
“Juniors under our current programme are more from middle- or upper-middle class families, and tend to have more choices as they can afford to study overseas,” he added. “We lose a lot of talent in this way.
“Kids from grassroots might have less of an option, so there is a higher chance they will continue to pursue the sport.”