Sports chief: HK$32b Kai Tak Sports Park ‘no white elephant’ – and Hong Kong can play part in China World Cup with it
Yeung Tak-keung, the government’s commissioner for sports, is gearing up for another battle with lawmakers this week over the controversial project
Commissioner for Sports Yeung Tak-keung insists the controversial HK$31.9 billion Kai Tak Sports Park will not be another white elephant – and warned that Hong Kong faces missing out on playing a part in a China-hosted World Cup without it.
The massive project on the former airport site has faced heavy criticism from lawmakers over the course of 12 hours of debate in the Legislative Council this month. The Home Affairs Bureau wants the public works subcommittee (PWSC) to sign off on the funding request and send it to the finance committee for final approval.
The 28-hectare park – comprising a 50,000-seat stadium, 10,000-seat indoor arena, 5,000-seat community sports ground, 57,000 square metres of retail space, a ‘dining cove’, hotel, public open areas and more – has been attacked by some as another costly disaster waiting to happen, like the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, Kai Tak Cruise Terminal or Guangzhou-Hong Kong high speed rail line.
But Yeung, whose remit is to get the sports park built some 20 years after it was proposed, says otherwise and is adamant that the facility is vital for the development of sport in Hong Kong.
“I’m not surprised [by the level of opposition],” he said ahead of another stormy session of the PWSC last week. “We were fully prepared.
“This is not a white elephant – this is what Hong Kong people need and what our sportsmen and sportswomen need.
“We can’t compare this with the bridge or tunnel, etcetera – we have a very well-defined work site ... there will not be any major underground work. In terms of complexity of the work itself, it’s building work, not civil engineering work.”
The Home Affairs Bureau wants funding approval in this legislative session – i.e. by mid-July – to put the project to tender, start building in 2018 and get it open by 2022 or ’23.
Yeung said further delays would increase the already daunting price – and possibly rule out any Hong Kong involvement in a China-hosted football World Cup. The mainland seems certain to host one of the next three World Cups; Kai Tak should be open long before, but the long history of delays does not inspire confidence.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on football in the mainland and we really hope that it can grow and eventually we can host [part of] a World Cup, just like 10 years ago when we hosted the equestrian events for the Beijing Olympics.
“So maybe one day when China hosts the World Cup, Hong Kong can play a part,” he said.
“What I can say with certainty now is that without the facilities we will not be part of the picture. If we have the facilities then it’s possible – not only the World Cup but all sorts of major events.”
Yeung and his colleagues have been harangued particularly by pan-democrat lawmakers, with ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung even personally attacking the civil servant for his supposed lack of sporting background.
“It’s not easy – in my previous postings we also needed to go to Legco to get funding approval and in the past few years it’s getting more and more difficult,” Yeung said. “But we’ll do our best – as we sportspersons say, we do our best and hope we get the right result.
“I’m a competitive person. Nowadays squash is my main game and I play maybe four times a week. You need to prepare, put in training, know the game, prepare your tactics.
“For our work we need to do the same – and I’m not going to give up easily as a competitive person.”
Some of the main criticisms have been regarding the proposed procurement model, under which the successful tenderer will have to design and build the facility, then operate it under a 25-year contract (DBO).
Such is the complexity of the project that the government proposes a ‘bid incentive’ – a first in Hong Kong – under which unsuccessful tenderers will receive 50 per cent of their bid cost back, up to HK$60 million. Consultants fear that without it there won’t be any bids, or not enough for a competitive tender process.
“This is something new for Hong Kong [but] there are many examples overseas of governments providing bid incentives,” insisted Yeung.
“We are an international city and we need to keep up to date with the international market and learn from others’ experience ... it will be subject to very close audit and scrutiny.
“The Cruise Terminal adopted a model where one party did the design and build and another operates it, and there have been many criticisms about the original design, the operator finding it not good enough.
“That’s why we decided to adopt DBO so that from the very beginning we can have the input of the operator in designing the whole thing – that will facilitate the future operation and we can get the benefit of a better design from a very early stage.”
Yeung insisted that the Sports Park was backed by the public as well as, naturally, athletes and sporting bodies.
He said existing facilities such as Hong Kong Stadium, the Coliseum and Queen Elizabeth Stadium no longer met international standards.
“In the past 10 to 20 years we have seen increasing interest and participation in sports,” he said. “Thirteen years ago when we started the major sports event scheme, there were only four M-Mark events. Now we have 12. The Hong Kong Marathon, 20 years ago there were only 1,000 participants, this year we had 75,000.
“The level of participation and interest are going up and the demand for facilities is going up. This Sports Park is what we are lacking if we want to go forward.
“It’s vital to the further development of sports in Hong Kong – not only for major events but also elite sports and community sports.”