Why top star Marco Fu fears for future of Hong Kong snooker
Despite the success of the sport and its popularity in the city, the fact it is not in the Asian Games or Olympics at present could see it lose vital Sports Institute support
Marco Fu Ka-chun is hoping his recent return to winning ways can help snooker retain its place as an elite sport at the Hong Kong Sports Institute – and avoid “dismantling” all the progress the team has made.
Snooker is one of 17 ‘Tier A’ sports at the Sha Tin campus, entitling it to world-class facilities and the best in sports science, plus considerable funding to hire top-level coaches and provide grants to established and up-and-coming talents.
But Tier A sports must feature in “current or recent” Asian or Olympic Games. Snooker was ditched from the Asian Games after 2010 and has never been in the Olympics.
So despite Fu and his teammates’ superb results in recent years, the government’s Elite Sports Committee could drop snooker at an upcoming meeting to decide what sports will retain elite status.
That would be a disaster, fears Fu, who won his first ranking title since 2013 with a superb win over home favourite John Higgins at the Scottish Open in December.
After a dire start to the season, the Glasgow win was the second of three major tournaments in a row in which Fu reached at least the semis – the elite UK Championship and Masters the others – prompting rival players and seasoned commentators to declare the 39-year-old in the best form of his life.
“I found some form before the UK on the practice table,” said Fu, speaking on the phone from Britain where he was preparing for a Lunar New Year break with his wife and two young children between tournaments.
“Wayne [Griffiths, the HKSI head billiards coach] gave me a lot of help, he travels with me a lot especially to bigger tournaments like the UK, Masters and World Championships.
“I owe him a huge thank-you, it definitely turned the season around and without him I would have struggled.”
Griffiths, the son of Welsh great Terry, has overseen some terrific results for Hong Kong since his arrival in 2010, including world championships for Ng On-yee in the women’s game and Cheung Ka-wai at under-18 level. But he knows his job is on the line if snooker loses elite status.
“[The funding and support] is very important,” added Fu. “We never used to have a head coach before, now we have more funding we can hire the best coaches in the world – ever since Wayne’s arrival Hong Kong results have improved dramatically from juniors, ladies and myself and also the senior group and amateurs so it definitely helps.
“We can have access to sports science, use the nutritionist, we can see the psychologist, we can use the technology to analyse our game on the technical side – these are definitely advantages [that other players on tour don’t have].”
Snooker seems almost certain to return to the Asian Games in Hangzhou in 2022, given the popularity of the sport in China and the likelihood their athletes would medal. The sport’s governing body is hopeful of inclusion in the 2024 Olympics, though Tokyo 2020 was not interested.
In four Asian Games from 98 to 2010, Hong Kong won 10 medals, including four gold, with Fu’s victory over Ding Junhui in the final in Guangzhou 2010 one of the highlights.
As well as that impressive record, Fu is hoping that the popularity of the sport in Hong Kong will help sway decision-makers. Ng is a local celebrity after her world title win in 2015 and her Sports Star Award in 2016, while Fu has been one of the city’s best-known sportspersons since breaking through in the late 90s.
“I’m very confident that we’re going to stay, but these are things out of our control anyway,” added Fu, whose superb form hit a blip this week when he was knocked out early in the German Masters. “As athletes we can only do our best, we can only perform to our best ability when we have a chance, that’s all we can ask for.
“It’s always in the news, On-yee, myself and junior players having good results – if you asked most people to name five most famous athletes in Hong Kong, at least two would probably be snooker players.
“As well a lot of people playing the sport, they tune in to watch the tournaments – viewing figures are always in the top-three and sometimes even better than Premier League football. The World Championships were even better than Wimbledon last year, it shows how much the sport is loved by the people of Hong Kong.
“I just hope we stay an elite sport, with the Asian Games coming back to China it’s looking very positive, but it’s very important for us to keep that status ... [otherwise] it will dismantle everything.”