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Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA)

Hong Kong FA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe to leave his role in two months after contract expires

Englishman was appointed in 2012 to help lift Hong Kong soccer but leaves with two years remaining of his five-year strategy plan

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 3:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 10:58pm

Football chief Mark Sutcliffe will leave his office despite having two years left in his strategy plan to revitalise the sport in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak said they would not comment on the future of the chief executive but various sources confirmed Sutcliffe, who took over the job in 2012, would not be offered a new contract when his present one expires in September.

“We will not comment on our staff member’s contract as this is between him and the association,” said Leung. “If there are changes, we will make a proper announcement.”

Sutcliffe also declined to make any comment until the “time is nearer”.

The association will have a board meeting next week and it is believed an official statement will be made after the meeting.

Sutcliffe, from Liverpool, UK, first came to Hong Kong in 2009 when he conducted a soccer consultancy report for the government. Upon the report’s completion, Sutcliffe’s company, Scott Wilson, was appointed the “change agent” for the HKFA to implement the changes in the report before the introduction of the Phoenix Project, a comprehensive programme initiated by the government to revive all aspects of the game.

Following the HKFA’s falling out with the project’s first chief executive, Gordon McKie, after six months, Sutcliffe was offered the top job with a reported annual salary of over HK$3 million.

When appointing Sutcliffe, Leung said, “he has a good knowledge of soccer in Hong Kong and I believe his arrival will lead us to the next phase of development”.

In 2011, the government earmarked HK$20 million annually for the HKFA to implement Project Phoenix, including the hiring of the association’s first ever chief executive.

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The project was then replaced by Sutcliffe’s five-year strategic plan, Aiming High – Together, funded to the tune of HK$25 million per annum up to 2020, along with another five-year programme by the Hong Kong Jockey Club that is worth HK$120 million.

The government funding is for the HKFA’s payroll costs and other overheads, as well as contributing to specific activities linked to the plan’s delivery.

The Jockey Club largesse will be used for football development activities, including youth coaching and leagues, girl’s and women’s football, grass roots programmes, futsal, refereeing and coach education.

While there have been marked improvements in many development activities under Sutcliffe, the Hong Kong Premier League, launched in 2014 to replace the First Division as the top tier competition, has been under fire for failing to attract fans.

In the past three seasons, the average attendance per Premier League match was 1,019 (2015-16), 919 (2016-17) and 954 (2017-18), falling short of the five-year plan’s interim target of 1,500.

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The Hong Kong national team’s performance is another major concern following their failure to qualify for the 2019 Asia Cup finals. There is also little indication the team’s ranking would reach the targets by March 2020, i.e. the Fifa ranking of 130 and 15 in the Asian Football Confederation. Currently they are ranked 142 in the world behind Saint Kitts and Nevis with its population of just 55,000 and regional rivals Taiwan.

Seasoned club manager Peter Leung Shou-chi, of Eastern, said it would be difficult for any administrator in Sutcliffe’s position and questioned the necessity for any replacement with less than two years left in the government funding cycle.

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“To be fair, Sutcliffe has been doing a good job as he has the knowledge and helps clubs’ development in many aspects.

“Hong Kong soccer has many vested interests and it is not an easy job,” he said.

“Even if we bring in someone new there is very little time to make changes before the end of the funding period. I would rather see the resources spent on promotion of the Premier League to attract more fans.”