Will Kai Tak Sports Park really be the great panacea to solve all of Hong Kong’s sporting ills?

People are getting used to hearing how things will improve in the city sportscape after Kai Tak is completed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 September, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 September, 2018, 8:22pm

It’s becoming a familiar refrain. You sense it will eventually become rote. Kai Tak Sports Park, first mooted in 2005 and now almost ready to break ground some 14 years later, will be the city’s saving grace and finally see it punching at its weight on the world stage when it comes to the sporting landscape.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know the Kai Tak project is an expensive, expansive and hugely ambitious project to develop a state-of-the-art sporting complex that will consist of a 50,000-seat stadium as well as two further 4,000- and 5,000-capacity arenas on 28 hectares of Hong Kong harbourfront. In 2023.

Until then the Hong Kong public will just have make do with a second best array of events, whilst casting envious glances north to Shanghai, east to Tokyo and, most painfully, south to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. All of which have been rapaciously adding to their shiny collection of blue ribband spectacles in recent years.

Each of those cities was rated as having a far superior portfolio to our own in a recent analysis of Hong Kong’s major sports event calendar.

Hong Kong is missing out badly. Certainly for a city with its vast resources.

The report, jointly commissioned by financial services company KPMG and sports networking group BOSN, attempts to paint the glass as half full; when the number bods had crunched a whole heap of figures and their weighted metrics were calculated, Hong Kong emerged as a regional leader in many of the areas that are supposed to fertilise a fecund sporting environment.

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But the one metric that counted to us, as sport media and sport fans, was the one that graded the SAR on its event portfolio. In that regard, it was hopelessly lacking.

Even Shanghai with its strangling bureaucracy, persistently hamstringing and then browbeating global sporting bodies, was shown to be far more fertile ground for major administrations looking to hold blue chip events abroad. Of course, it’s obvious why. Sporting bodies have a lot to gain from a foothold in the mainland market and for that reason they will put up with the inevitable reels of government red tape.

Still, Hong Kong has proven itself to be well capable of staging almost-large-scale events.

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After some teething issues, the logistically daunting Hong Kong E-Prix is now considered a key part of the Formula E calendar. City tennis officials wax lyrical about the high regard the Hong Kong Tennis Open is held in by the governing WTA since the event’s resumption in 2014.

The annual Rugby Sevens is a slickly run triumph, the envy of any rugby-playing nation on earth. And the Hong Kong Golf Open is regularly well supported (and praised) by a selection of top players.

So if there’s a solid track record of hosting these international-grade events, and if all indicators point to Hong Kong being a safe, secure travel destination, with enviable civic infrastructure in place, then why does it still struggle to attract the truly elite-level events?

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At the presentation of the report, it was suggested that the two areas that could be identified in recent years as holding back the Hong Kong sports scene were event support and its sporting infrastructure. Both issues were acknowledged and reported as being on the way to being solved.

However belatedly, ground is expected to be broken on Kai Tak soon with that 2022-23 window repeatedly offered as the promised land.

Hong Kong Commissioner for Sport Yeung Tak-keung spoke at the report’s launch and presented details of the government’s new HK$500 million “matching scheme”, which will replace the Mega Events Fund and is set to be rolled out later next year.

The previous five-year funding plan was considered on the whole to have been less than successful and some of the restrictions on funding have been lifted under the new scheme. There’s also been a slight increase in the available funding.

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Whether it will be enough to attract elite events remains to be seen, but it’s safe to assume we won’t be seeing a Formula One Grand Prix whizzing through Central any time soon with a maximum government outlay of HK$10 million available from next year.

The new scheme will rely heavily on commercial sector support to back large-scale events financially.

But it is Kai Tak that is repeatedly being talked of as the panacea for the sporting world’s aversion to bringing top events to these shores.

Time will tell, but five years is a long time for the people of Hong Kong to wait in limbo.

It at least affords some breathing room to city administrators on that front, who will turn over the responsibility for attracting top events to the winning tender. And then it’s somebody else’s problem. There’ll be no more excuses after that.