Do Hong Kong’s female athletes really outperform their male counterparts?
There are six females and just two males on the eight-person shortlist for Hong Kong sport’s top honour
Hong Kong’s female athletes may appear to be more successful on the international front than their male counterparts but the difference is not that wide, says Hong Kong Sports Institute chief executive Trisha Leahy.
As Hong Kong celebrates its brightest athletes at the Sports Stars Awards ceremony today, past winners have mostly been women with the likes of cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze, squash player Rebecca Chiu Wing-yin, swimmer Siobhan Haughey, snooker world champion Ng On-yee and, of course, 1996 Olympic gold medallist Lee Lai-shan, among the big names who have won the top prize.
However, a closer look at the 19 tier A sports at the Institute shows that the difference in performances may not be that significant, according to Leahy.
“I think it’s great that people put the spotlight on the achievements of Hong Kong’s women athletes,” said Leahy, a female sports psychologist who helped Lee win the Olympic gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. “While we should all be proud of our female athletes’ achievements, it is probably not a significant figure when comparing against our male athletes results.”
Leahy said the Institute ran a statistical analysis on elite sports covering the last four-year cycle in four major events – the Asian Championships, World Championships, Asian Games and Olympic Games.
After a closer look at the top eight positions, results showed an almost 50-50 split between male and female athletes performances. And when it came to female medallists, it ranged from 38 per cent (at the Asian Games) to 57 per cent (at world championships).
Hong Kong failed to win any medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics but in terms of top eight positions, four were achieved by male athletes and four by their female teammates.
In fact, across the four major competitions, about 43 per cent of female athletes won medals, which reflects the relative proportion of female athletes to male at the Sports Institute.
Vivien Lau Chiang-chu, a former ten-pin bowler who is now vice president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee, agreed there was no significant difference between men’s and women’s results at elite level.
“There may be some very outstanding female athletes at the Olympic Games as we can all remember Lee Lai-shan and Sarah Lee,” said Lau, who won a bronze medal in the women’s trio at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok. “But don’t forget the men’s doubles [table tennis] pair of Ko Lai-chak and Lee Ching as they also won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. In cycling, Wong Kam-po was a dominant figure in Hong Kong sports before Sarah Lee surged to prominence.
“In ten-pin bowling, we have Cathrine Che who won the first ever gold medal for Hong Kong at the Asian Games in 1986 but Hui Cheung-kwok was the first bowler to win the world title for Hong Kong.
“Male bowlers Wu Siu-hong and Mak Cheuk-yin are both doing very well at the moment.”
Leahy said male and female athletes are equally supported at the Sports Institute across all the critical success factors that contribute to elite performance.
Given that background, it will be interesting to see how many male athletes are among the top eight sports stars in Tuesday’s ceremony, of which one will be given the “Best of the Best” award.
Lee will be among the favourites after capturing a bronze medal in the sprint at the 2017 World Championships in Tseung Kwan O while snooker player Ng won world titles run by the amateur and professional bodies. In total, she won four world titles.
US-based Haughey was the champion in the 100-metre and 200-metre freestyle at the World University Games in Taiwan. Her fifth place finish in the 200-metre freestyle final at the World Championships in Budapest was another milestone for Hong Kong swimming.
In wushu, He Jianxin captured two gold medals in the women’s nandao and nangun at the World Championships in Kazan, Russia last year, elevating her to a position among the favourites to challenge at the top eight awards.
With disabled athletes usually being considered for the top honour, candidates Yu Chui-yee (wheelchair fencing) and Ng Mui-wui (disability table tennis) would be two strong contenders.
There are six female athletes in the honours list.
The two male athletes looking to mount a challenge will be fast-improving fencer Cheung Ka-long and table tennis star Wong Chun-ting.
On Tuesday we will discover if more female athletes or their male counterparts will be honoured.