Why Hong Kong government’s bid to scrap Kitchee’s training centre is a much bigger local football scandal than latest match-fixing allegations

All efforts to stamp out corruption should be lauded of course, but we can think of some better targets for ICAC investigators

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 October, 2016, 2:36pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2016, 8:56pm

Who was more annoyed with this week’s revelations of alleged match-fixing in Hong Kong football – officials at Pegasus, the team involved, or rivals Kitchee?

A much bigger football-related scandal than the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s investigation has been knocked off the local news agenda by the fixing story – the government’s apparent determination to snatch back land granted to Kitchee, a year almost to the day after they opened a training centre.

All efforts to stamp out corruption in local sport should be lauded, of course, but the fixing story is most notable for its scale.

The five arrested players – whose names and photos have been plastered all over Chinese media – are accused of taking HK$90,000 to fix four matches in the Hong Kong Reserve League.

That’s HK$4,500 each per game, a remarkably small sum on which to stake the end of your career and maybe jail. One of the players allegedly involved is said to be a finance student – he must have missed the class on downside risk.

Of course, we shouldn’t tolerate corruption just because the sums are small.

The ICAC’s most recent well-publicised cases involve one man jailed for 35 months for making HK$45 million bribes to rig tenders, and another for six months for offering a bottle of perfume to a bank employee to open an account for him.

They are certainly equal-opportunity investigators (even if it is odd that HK$45 million was deemed only 5.8 times more egregious by the sentencing judge than a HK$1,350 bottle of Chanel No.5).

It’s also hard to feel sorry for the scandal’s victims, almost certainly mainland gamblers who – if they’re eager to illegally bet on reserve-team football in Hong Kong – would soon have lost their money wagering on flies crawling up a wall in any case.

Pegasus suspend players in scandal over Hong Kong match-fixing investigation by ICAC

But those details aren’t seen by those who read a “Hong Kong footballers in match-fixing scandal” headline and look no further, biases confirmed.

The Hong Kong Football Association has been making major efforts to improve the governance and organisation of the game, engage communities, get more kids playing, improve facilities, etc, etc; all of which is overshadowed when “CORRUPTION SCANDAL!!!” is blasted all over the media.

And though the scandal may be comparatively tiny, any business or non-profit thinking about associating their brand and reputation with local football has now been given pause.

The headlines are ammunition too for those who see no problem with the government’s braindead bid to take back Kitchee’s training ground in an industrial estate in Sha Tin in order to build 1,400 flats.

Kitchee have spent HK$84 million – almost 1,000 times the match-fixing sum – to put in two full-size pitches, a gym and offices on the 15,000 square-metre site.

Fears realised as Kitchee soccer training centre in Sha Tin makes way for housing development

Most of the money was provided by the Jockey Club’s Charities Trust and the facility – so new that Google Street View still shows it as the blighted concrete wasteland it was for many years – is used by the community one-third of the time.

In a city where far too many children get little exercise, it was a perfect collaboration between politicians, sports officials, charity and the community, a model to emulate – so let’s rip it up, throw the money down the drain and make Hong Kong’s biggest taxpayer wary of ever getting involved in a similar project.

‘We need housing!’ is the counter argument, while 1,192 hectares, equivalent to 60 Victoria Parks, of brownfield land occupied by illegal car parks and rusting shipping containers is available.

The government is obviously far more comfortable scrapping a facility providing huge benefits to local children rather than trying to take on rural strongmen in the Wang Chau housing saga.

Coincidentally, the HQ of the Heung Yee Kuk, who “represent rural interests” in Hong Kong, is on the same street as Kitchee’s centre, 300 metres away. You wonder if someone saw some kids playing and was offended by land being put to better use than growing weeds.

Yes, it’s not difficult to think of folk in Hong Kong other than reserve-team footballers we’d like to see the ICAC take a look into ...