Closing private clubs could kill Hong Kong sports and is not the answer to the housing crisis

As the government announces plans to charge hundreds of millions of dollars in land premiums, sporting bodies fear for what the future holds

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 2:10pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 March, 2018, 9:31pm

They may be privileged in the eyes of many but the proletariat are banging at their door. And in nine years – if not before – Joe Public will also have the keys to the private sports clubs of Hong Kong.

There’s no hiding for 24 private sports clubs who have had it too good for too long and are about to pay the price – and a big one at that.

Just the thought of paying hundreds of millions of dollars in a (discounted) land premium would spell immediate doom, but being forced to allow the great unwashed into their bathrooms and hallowed halls might even be harder to swallow.

Land supply is the biggest problem in Hong Kong but putting the squeeze on a few sports clubs is short-sighted when there other bigger fish the government could hook, but don’t want to cast their rods.

It would be unfair to ignore the contribution of these clubs in Hong Kong sports. Many built their own facilities when government investment in sport was nowhere to be seen.

As Ronnie Wong Man-chiu, a retired swimmer who represented Hong Kong in two Olympic Games and is now honorary secretary general of the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee, said: “A modern city needs something more than just housing. You cannot build housing everywhere in Hong Kong. For instance, if you demolish the golf club, you cannot replace it with another one which owns such a long history, not only in sports but also in the history of the city.

“It is necessary to keep private sports clubs in a bustling, hustling modern city like Hong Kong and at the same time we also agree there should be some changes in the leasing policy, especially as we have more and more Hong Kong people who are engaged in sports.”

As a government four-year study into private recreational leases states, sports clubs which serve a limited number of members and their families will have to make major concessions to guarantee their future.

The review suggests a 30 per cent charge of the full market value land premium on top of the nominal level they are paying the government.

However, this will not happen until 2027 as the government would like to give the clubs ample time to prepare. The new lease, however, will need to be renewed after 15 years.

The clubs will also be required to open up their facilities to “eligible outside organisations” such as national sports associations (NSAs) and their affiliates, district sports associations and sports organisations supported by the government with a minimum of 30 per cent of their total capacity.

They will also need to partner with the NSAs to organise sports programmes, of which a minimum of 240 hours per month should be open to the public.

Gasp.

“I won’t comment on the percentage as there is still a public consultation period and people can voice their views,” said Wong. “But I believe the private sports clubs would need to make some sacrifices if they want to keep their place.”

For some sports such as sailing that rely heavily on the private clubs for training, they are fearful for the future.

“I don’t know if they will charge us more in future because they will face the burden of paying the land premium which is not a small amount of money,” said Sailing Federation president Tong Yui-shing. “Unlike many other sports, we don’t have too many government facilities that we can use for training and I hope the new policy will not make us suffer.”

Hong Kong’s private sports clubs told to pay higher land costs reflecting market rates – but only from 2027

The government did not give any figures on land premiums as it will be based on the value when they charge the clubs. But it is estimated the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling, which occupies an area of 170 hectares, will have to pay around HK$400 million on the current value.

The Chinese Recreation Club in Tai Hang, which occupies a smaller area of 16,500 square metres, may also need to pay a big amount because of its location on Hong Kong Island.

“It’s shocking news as the premium seems to be getting out of hand,” said a Mrs Lau, one of the 3,580 members of the Causeway Bay club who plays tennis and badminton there. “If we don’t have sufficient reserves to pay for it, I don’t know what we are going to do. Demolish the whole club?”

If the clubs do not wish or cannot afford to pay the land premium, the review said they can operate in a “quasi-public” nature, like the South China Athletic Association (SCAA), which adopts an open memberships policy with low charges.

Some elite Hong Kong sports clubs need only admit a few new members to cover land fee plan

There are 66 sites under the private recreation lease, the review said, and 27 are held by 24 private sports clubs (Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club has three) and the rest are held by social or community organisations such as Tai Po Sports Association and SCAA.

These organisations will not be affected as they can continue to pay a nominal value premium if the policy is adopted by the government.