Ken Wallis, Hong Kong’s last-ever Commonwealth Games medal winner, recalls Victoria 1994
The former policeman, who also played soccer for Hong Kong, chats about the events that led to his bronze in the men’s singles lawn bowls tournament
Ken Wallis went into the 1994 Commonwealth Games with a heavy burden on his shoulders. He was practically a pariah within the Hong Kong lawn bowls camp, shunned by many teammates who felt he didn’t deserve to play singles and ridiculed by overseas rivals.
The former Hong Kong soccer player was national champion but many felt he used his position as president of the Hong Kong Lawn Bowls Association to gain the coveted singles spot on the squad for the Games in Victoria, Canada.
At the end of the Games, it was Wallis who earned the right to gloat. Finishing second in his group behind Scotland’s eventual gold medallist Richard Corsie, Wallis guaranteed himself a bronze and thus became Hong Kong’s last-ever medal winner at the Commonwealth Games.
In three years time, Hong Kong’s sovereignty was to return to China and, no longer a British colony, mainland officials ruled that local athletes were ineligible for the Commonwealth Games. This week’s Games in the Gold Coast, Australia will be the sixth without Hong Kong, and Wallis’ memories of Victoria remain vivid.
When asked about the difficulties he faced in the lead-up to the Games, Wallis said: “I assume you are referring to selection. There was always strong debate over selection for any competition, and these Games were no exception.
“All I can say is that I had won the 1993 national singles, had played in the 1993 Pacific Championships at the Commonwealth Games venue and I was comfortable that I warranted a place on the team,” said Wallis, now 75 and living in Sydney, Australia. “That it was in the singles was, again in all honesty, a surprise, but, perhaps, it was those difficulties you mention that might have brought about the selection they settled upon.
“Anyway, the six months or more that we had in preparation, allowed me to put in some very solid individual practice at the old HKFC Green in Sports Road, and once the Games started I put any difficulty there may have been aside, and concentrated on my event. It paid off!”
Wallis collected the last of four bronze medals Hong Kong won at the 1994 Games – badminton team event and visually impaired lawn bowls via Carlos Antunes and Sunny Tang.
His achievement earned him the honour of being the flag-carrier for the closing ceremony – the last Hong Kong athlete to do so at the Games.
“To be honest, I do not think I was conscious of the timetable for other sports during the Games, and therefore was unaware that it was the final medal. It probably hit me when I was asked to carry the flag at the closing ceremony, which was a rather emotional experience, being the last time we would appear in the Games.
“On the podium, I just felt that all my hard work in preparation for the Games had paid off and that it might quieten a few critics.”
Wallis arrived in Hong Kong from Britain in 1962 to join what was then the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, where he pursued his first love, football. He played in an era when Police were among the stronger teams in the elite division and when games attracted thousands of fans.
Even the Police ground at Boundary Street was able to hold 10,000 people and the scene was dominated by the likes of Kitchee and South China. Wallis was soon called up for the Hong Kong squad and played in the 1965 and 1966 Merdeka Cup in Malaysia, which at the time was one of the top regional tournaments.
“Soccer was my first love. Police became reasonably strong in the local completion, until in the late ’60s and early ’70s, there was an influx of professionals who, with their respective teams, started to dominate.
“The ’60s were a great period though and it was always a delight to play in front of 40,000 at the Government Stadium and 10,000 at the Police Ground in Boundary Street. Our home ground was rather special with several extra thousands clinging to the hillside to watch Police play, say, KMB or Fire Services.
“My first game, I remember was in late 1962 at a full HKFC Stadium against 517. I always enjoyed playing for HK either home or away and the 1965 & 1966? Merdeka Tournaments in KL were particularly memorable. CNY was also a time when a foreign side would visit, and it was good to contest those games. One I always remember, probably in the late ’60s was against a Scottish XI, which included many of the then current national team. My moment of glory was scoring the first goal to put Hong Kong 1-0 up, but we went on to lose 1-4.”
Off the pitch, Wallis was part of Fifa’s first coaching course in Asia, joining about 20 others at Chiba University in Japan with classes run by former Germany assistant coach Dettmar Cramer.
And it was Cramer, part of Germany's 1966 set-up, who asked Wallis to help out at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico on the Fifa Development Committee.
Also in 1970, Wallis fulfilled a childhood dream by training with his beloved Chelsea for three months before returning to Hong Kong as a player-coach for Police and ending his playing career with a one-season stint for Rangers.
“I have been a Chelsea man all my life, visiting Stamford Bridge throughout the fifties and having a season ticket in 1957 until my playing commitments stopped me,” he said.
In 1971, he attended Hong Kong University on a full-time scholarship to study Chinese and it was there that he met his wife, Jenny. The relationship spawned a future Hong Kong star with Jenny Wallis taking up bowls and helping Hong Kong to the bronze in the women’s fours at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games.
It was Jenny who also eventually took her husband away from Hong Kong in 1998 after she was appointed director of the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office in Sydney.
“That three years extended to nine and it became a family decision to stay [in Sydney],” said Wallis, who still comes to Hong Kong once a year to visit his daughter and her family.
Wallis already had an Australian connection before moving there, having run a bowls business in Brisbane since 1991.
“In 2005, I closed that and moved it down to Sydney near where we live,” said Wallis, who with Jenny still play bowls at the Turramurra bowls in Sydney. “I still spend four full days and two half-days at the shop each week. It is basically a hobby but having hit 75 recently, it helps keep me fit and on my toes generally.
“I will always treasure my time in Hong Kong in the Force and with all the sport that gave me so many opportunities. I have spent most of my life there and my whole family still regard it as home.”