The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) is hoping its “lack of progress” since initiating Project Phoenix nine years ago will not affect funding for the sport in the next five years. The FA has come under heavy fire from the Audit Commission which said more than HK$160 million was invested into the sport but the lack of improvement, especially in the top flight, had been a major disappointment. Since Project Phoenix began in 2011, which was followed by the Five-year Strategic Plan that was completed last month, results have hardly been impressive. The Audit Commission’s report, released on Wednesday, shows there has been a decrease in match attendances for domestic matches. From 2015 to 2019, the average number of spectators per match had decreased by 3.6 per cent from 1,403 to 1,352. Apart from income derived from programme and registration fees, all other self-generated income by the HKFA also showed a declining trend. Gate receipts fell from HK$16.8 million (16 per cent of total income) in the 2014-15 season to HK$4.6 million (5 per cent of total income) in the 2017-18 season. In the same period, sponsorship income also decreased from HK$21.1 million (21 per cent of total income) to HK$4.5 million (5 per cent of total income). Hong Kong football’s new five-year plan caught in city paralysis “We clearly understand the situation is not ideal,” association chairman Pui Kwan-kay said. “We must raise the standard of the game or the fans will not come to watch and to achieve this the association cannot work on its own but must work with individual clubs. “There is still a long way to go before football can be reformed at all levels in order for it to be successful. We hope the government will continue to support us and not turn away [from football] at this critical period as the next funding cycle will be crucial to our future development.” The existing five-year funding plan, which provided a maximum HK$25 million in government subsidies a year, was set to run out last month. But amid the pandemic, the government has yet to discuss renewal of the plan with the association. The report said they had also examined the 2009 consultancy report, where a total of 16 key targets for football development were set before the launch of Project Phoenix. And it made for depressing reading. It was found that up to the end of September 2019, some achievements were far off from the initial target and even lower than that achieved in 2009. Outgoing CEO Sutcliffe fears for future of Hong Kong football In the women’s world ranking, Hong Kong held 60th spot in December 2009. According to the target set in the consultancy report, the position should have been 40 in 2015 while maintaining a top 35 ranking in 2020. However, up to the end of September 2019, the actual position was 77, some 17 places worse than before. The Asia ranking for the men’s team was 26 in 2009. According to the target, it should have been 15 in 2015 while maintaining a top-10 placing in 2020. However, Hong Kong’s ranking actually dropped to 27 by the end of September 2019. A statement from the HKFA said the implemented Project Phoenix from 2011-2014 and a Five Year Strategic Plan from 2015-2020 to carry out reform and development of football both “on and off” the pitch showed “significant progress” in many areas. “The HKFA will actively follow up on the recommendations of the Director of Audit to better formulate direction and initiatives in football development, and to improve the governance of the association,” the statement said. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.