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Winning the Kai Tak bid is the easy part – good luck making it a success in sport-starved Hong Kong

To make the facility work, the successful consortium must fight an indifference to sport that has been ingrained over generations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2018, 9:34pm

The Kai Tak Sports Park won’t be finished until at least 2022 but it seems a pretty safe bet the Hong Kong government cannot wait to wash its hands of the whole thing.

It’s been 20 years in the making and, even though the tender process is now in motion, there is plenty of water to go under the bridge before Hong Kong has a shiny new stadium.

The tender submission window is open until June 29 and it could take as long as nine months to award the contract.

How long the Sports Park will take to actually build is anyone’s guess – don’t mention the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge saga – but it’s likely the powers that be are stealing a sneaky glance at the clock, even if it is their own saturation of bureaucracy that is stretching out the process.

The Sports Park will operate on a self-financing basis without any government subsidies, putting the onus on the winning bidder and their sports promotion arm to attract enough events to keep the accountants happy.

All sounds good in theory, but the winning consortium – from either Guangzhou R&F Properties, New World Development or Dragages Hong Kong – will face an almighty struggle in bucking a deep-seated trend fostered for years by the government.

Hong Kong lacks a genuine sports culture and that rests with its leaders, who have long failed to recognise the importance of sport in a city that didn’t have a sports commissioner until the appointment of Yeung Tak-keung less than two years ago.

On top of that, the government is poised to set stringent guidelines around the appearance of the stadium which many fear will leave us with nothing more than an eyesore and yet another hurdle for the winning bidder to overcome.

That the facility will be self managed could be for the best – the government has demonstrated time and again it is clueless when it comes to the nuances of sport and what makes it work.

Each consortium has armed itself with expertise. Guangzhou R&F Properties has CSM Sport & Entertainment on its team with Olympic legend Sebastian Coe imparting his wisdom.

“A bid is effectively about communication because you are trying to create an excitement, but a lot of organisations think that it is only during the bidding that you have to keep selling the vision, but actually you have to do that every day [until the facility is opened and beyond],” says Coe, who is the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations and led London’s successful 2012 Olympic bid.

Coe’s grand vision for marquee sporting venues is they should serve a multitude of purposes, from raising the level at the elite end to catering for local sports teams and the general public.

Power is with the people, says Olympic ringmaster Seb Coe as he outlines his vision for Kai Tak Sports Park

That even encompasses health and wellness: half of Hong Kong’s population aged between 15 and 84 is overweight or obese and Coe insists the Sports Park must be used as a vehicle for lowering that number.

“You want to improve the elite status of your competitors and that’s important, then you’ve got the opportunity to stage events and that’s important. You want it to become a well-known regional facility,” he says.

“There are a lot of great things that can come together here to make this virtuous across every tier, whether it’s physical activity, tying into the national health and well-being alignments, social cohesion, there are lots of things that, if properly structured, this facility should be able to address.”

It’s a long list of boxes to tick and the winning consortium truly will have to deliver the whole package if the Sports Park is going to be a long-term success.

Hong Kong does not need a new sports stadium in Kai Tak, build public housing there instead

And all of this while fighting an indifference to sport that has been ingrained over generations – you can be sure that what worked for Coe in the sporting Mecca of London won’t work here unless it’s packaged perfectly.

Commissioner Yeung has insisted before that Hong Kong’s attitude is changing but, like anything of note in Hong Kong, a noticeable shift will take time.

So while the Sports Park might look amazing on the surface, underneath lies a near insurmountable task of making Hongkongers buy into their new facility.

That the winning consortium won’t be able to do it by themselves is as clear as day and it is up to the city’s leaders to step up to the plate and do their bit.

Don’t hold your breath, folks.