Hong Kong’s women footballers fight misconceptions and time constraints forcing them to move abroad to pursue love of the game
- First Hong Kong female turned pro in 2017 when she moved to Australia
- Another player has moved to UK to pursue a career in football
While men’s football is professionalised in Hong Kong, the women’s game is not.
Hong Kong’s female footballers are constantly juggling full-time jobs or study and cramming training sessions and competitions into their busy schedules.
“It’s tiring but we always show up because we love the sport,” said 38-year-old Ng Po-lam, a former national team player who plays for Kitchee. “Club practice one to two times a week is doable but I don’t think it’ll be manageable if we have training every day after work.”
Ng told the Post that she always saved her annual leave days for football: “I didn’t plan vacations because I was scared I wouldn’t have enough time off to participate in international tournaments.”
Chung Pui-ki, 20, a national team player who studies at the Hong Kong Baptist University’s School of Continuing Education says some of her friends were forced to quit football in order to maintain their livelihood.
“You only receive a travel allowance and training fee (HK$150 each session) from the national team, so you may end up paying out of your own pocket to train with them. Unlike the men, who earn a basic salary, female footballers aren’t paid and have relatively fewer resources.”
Ng believes women’s football in Hong Kong will remain an amateur game in the next decade.
“Men’s football is professionalised but it’s still challenging for them to find sponsorship. Women’s football developed much later, and girls are traditionally encouraged to prioritise education over sport. Professionalisation will be difficult.”
Chung says traditional cultural beliefs have affected the growth and development of women’s football in Hong Kong.
“Football was seen as a men’s game and parents would encourage their daughters to pursue ‘girlier’ sports like dance. Some thought playing football would make their daughters less feminine.
“The situation is much better now. Parents are more accepting of women’s football because of its popularity in countries such as the US and Japan. Additionally, more news about the Women’s World Cup is coming into Hong Kong, allowing Hongkongers to learn more about women’s football,” Chung said.
Chung said that youth football development for the women’s game is “not bad”. She says the under-10, under-12, under-15, under-18 and senior level national teams along with the establishment of a women’s youth league by the Hong Kong Football Associationhave given girls many more opportunities to participate and compete.
However, Chung believes the distance between the under-18 and the senior team is too big. “I think under-20 and under-23 teams should be created to bridge this gap.
“After under-18, you won’t be able to train with the senior team if you don’t get called up. This means you’ll only have club team practice, which is insufficient and hinders the development of women’s football,” Chung said.
Last year, 28-year-old Hongkonger Cheung Wai-ki, signed an historic one-year deal with Brisbane Roar for Australia’s 2017-18 W-League season, making her the first woman in Hong Kong to become a professional player.
Fellow national team players, 24-year-old Lau Yui-Ching and 29-year-old Chun Ching-hang, have moved abroad in search of playing opportunities.
Lau is currently playing in the Women’s National Premier Leagues, Australia’s second-tier division.
“Players here are physically stronger. Competing in Australia will help me improve my strength and get a higher intensity of training and games. It may even open up an opportunity for me to become a professional player.”
On the other side of the world, Chun plays for Swansea City Ladies, an amateur club in Wales.
“The women’s league in Hong Kong is pretty much decided between three teams, so it’s not that competitive,” Chun said. “I’m trying to gain as much overseas football experience as I can, whether amateur or professional. I just want to play football and simultaneously experience different cultures.”
Looking back at her college football career in the US, Andrea Fraser, 31, says “the commitment in terms of playing” is the biggest difference between Yale and the Hong Kong women’s national team.
She currently plays for Kitchee and previously trained with the Hong Kong national team for roughly a year. Fraser, who moved to Hong Kong in 2011, hopes to obtain a Hong Kong passport for eligibility to earn an international call up.
“The Hong Kong national team doesn’t train nearly as much as National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I teams do,” she said. “We trained everyday aside from Sundays, and maybe you’d have an easier training the day after a game. You’d also go to the weight room three times a week in season.”
But Fraser questions how much can be demanded from Hong Kong’s female footballers if they are unpaid.
“Some countries and clubs are in better positions to make a difference. It’s not like the premier teams in Hong Kong are making enough money to pay female players, so I can’t criticise them at the moment. We can’t really pin this on the HKFA or the clubs right now.”
Fraser says the Hong Kong women’s national team is on the cusp of breaking through onto a higher level but it is ultimately up to the government to decide on funding.
“It’s a catch-22: the government’s funding scheme is based on competitiveness, but the national team needs more funding to climb up the rankings.”