Show the stop sign to Hong Kong’s namby-pamby moaners and give Formula E the green light

Usual chorus of disapproval rose for last weekend’s HKT Hong Kong E-Prix but ‘not in my backyard’ attitude threatens to strangle emerging sporting culture

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 11:11am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 8:06pm

One of the few advantages to come with ageing is you tend to judge things less on what you hear and more on what you see for yourself.

Soon enough and you’ll be believing anything but my wits are still about me, contrary to rumours in some parts, and that brings us to the matter of last weekend’s HKT Hong Kong E-Prix, and a fear in my gut that is like tangled twine (as a man once sang).

Last year, when Hong Kong hosted its first E-Prix, a prior commitment overseas meant much of what I learned about the event came through second-hand reports.

They were taken with a grain of salt given the city’s rich history as a place where we moan first and then take stock of the realities later – or never.

That’s why you can still hear a chorus of disapproval rising every January before the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, each April before the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, at the end of the year when golf’s UBS Hong Kong Open looms into view – and just about any time an event relies on the use of even the smallest scrap of public space or money.

Certain aspects of the inaugural Formula E event should have been handled a lot better. Ticket prices to the grandstands were questionably steep, when stacked up against other legs of the FIA Formula E circuit, and similar events around the world.

And FIA head honcho Jean Todt did the event no favours with a confrontational attitude in a city that does not like to be told.

Stripped of Formula E Hong Kong E-Prix, Daniel Abt’s Audi team decides against appeal

But I had to wait until the event’s second edition to see for myself if all manner of inconvenience and trouble had indeed been caused.

So on Sunday afternoon I took to the streets and walked the circumference of the Central Harbourfront course.

Guess what I saw?

Happy people. Music playing. Families enjoying the sun in the E-Village. Suits doing what suits do – drinking champagne and pontificating in the marquees. Faces being painted. Food trucks actually serving food to customers.

What about the inconvenience?

Well, yeah.

Nah.

Basically one stretch of road was given over for two days, so that 27,000 people could enjoy a top-level international sport that also showcased the city in all its stunning glory to an ever-growing international audience that included a peak of almost 330,000 viewers in the United Kingdom alone.

Champagne and then real pain as birthday boy Daniel Abt stripped of Hong Kong E-Prix

Needed to walk through to Tamar via the waterfront? You could. Needed to get to Admiralty? You could. IFC? Yep. Ferries? Yep.

Time and time again Hong Kong has seen major events go elsewhere in the region. A pathetic lack of facilities has played a huge part, government inertia too. And then there’s this namby-pamby “not in my backyard” attitude taken by some sections of the community that no one has the right to use public – even private – space if that means traffic delays of a few minutes.

It’s an attitude that has a weak-willed government frightened, more often than not, of taking the lead when it comes to major sporting events and so the private sector has taken the initiative – and hence we are part of an electric revolution that is here to stay.

Cars not loud or fast enough for you? Deal with it. Audi, BMW, Jaguar, and Citroen have. Mercedes, Porsche and Nissan are about to.

Welcome to Formula E: Sam Bird crashes into garage but still wins chaotic Hong Kong E-Prix

The fear is Hong Kong might lose out on Formula E – at the exact moment some sort of sporting culture appears to be finally taking shape across the city. More events are appearing, more sports stars are emerging.

On the same weekend, Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching –who learned to swing a golf club at a driving range in Tuen Mun – played her way on to the LPGA Tour. It’s a staggering achievement and it again shows what’s possible when there’s talent, backed by a whole lot of faith.

Out of the blue on Monday we received a message from a proud mother explaining her nine-year-old had been enraptured by Formula E – and had watched the races – and that she had later read our reports to him. That’s how it begins.

Local organisers are also working to get things right. Free entry into the E-Village – via lottery – was a first step towards addressing access concerns. Whispers are that suggestions are being made to find ways to make grandstand access a little more easy to use going forward, too.

So next year, instead of moaning get yourself trackside – and get into life.