Hong Kong’s financially battered sports coaches will receive another one-off relief subsidy to the tune of HK$5,000, thanks to the government securing a third round of financing for the Anti-epidemic Fund (AEF) from the Legislative Council. The amount is hardly enough for anyone to live on, even during the best of times, more so since the Covid-19 outbreak at the start of the year. Some may say the HK$5,000 is a bonus, given the HK$7,500 subsidy that was handed out by the government in July under the second round of the AEF programme. However, HK$12,500 over nine months – less than HK$1,500 a month – is still way below the poverty line of HK$4,000 for one person a month, up to HK$21,000 for a four-person household. Many sports coaches are the breadwinners for their families, most of them earning an average of more than HK$20,000 a month before the pandemic. Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, vice-president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee, said he was disappointed by the drop in subsidy for the coaches. He said the government should provide more resources to support coach development to better adapt to the “new norm” with Covid-19 not expected to disappear any time soon. Cough up Carrie, Hong Kong’s coaches need cash to survive Covid-19 Fok and his Sports Alliance support group came out in April to appeal for financial aid forcoaches suffering from financial difficulties because of the closure of facilities when lockdown measures were in force. In fact, from February to September, the government’s sports facilities under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department had less than four weeks of continuous normal operations. Sports coaches rely heavily on LCSD venues, such as swimming pools, ball courts, sports grounds and running tracks, to conduct coaching classes to earn a living. Their livelihoods were further damaged by a fresh wave of new cases in Hong Kong in July when most coaching activities were again halted during the school holiday period – which is peak season for private coaching. While more resources should be allocated to coaches, public money is not unlimited and coaches should not be left to rely only on government relief measures. If that were the case, coaches – especially those working tirelessly at the bottom of the pyramid to help produce our stars of the future – would be left impoverished or forced to find other jobs. The government frequently warns of a strong possibility that coronavirus cases may once again spike during the winter months. If that happens and facilities are once again forced to close to prevent the further spread of infections, the government may need to provide another round of relief funding to coaches. Sports coaches to receive a one-off subsidy of HK$7,500 But according to the government’s logic, subsidies for the next round – should it be needed – will be less than the last time, which is hardly enough to lighten the financial burden faced by coaches. It would be better for the government to stop handing out token relief measures and instead formulate a plan to sustain the battered coaching industry. The world is gradually coming to the realisation that Covid-19 will be around for a while and we may have to live with it long term. In such a scenario, the government cannot simply close all the sports facilities and put coaches into another period of limbo and hardship. We have already gained plenty of knowledge and experience over the past nine months on how best to adapt to varying levels of virus infections. It may be better to allow coaching to continue under strict rules. Small groups may be able to train after all precautionary measures have been taken, such as wearing masks, temperature checks, disinfection cleaning and even Covid-19 testing to ensure the safety of trainers and their students. As fencing coach Wong Tsan said, they would be happy to use their skills to earn a living rather than rely on the government’s minimal subsidy. “If you close all the facilities, we have no way to survive,” said the former Commonwealth Championships gold medal winner, who runs his own fencing school which has been closed three times since the pandemic started. “We can follow all the hygiene requirements as we don’t want to be infected by the virus either, but please allow us to open so that we can find a way of making a living.” There are other support services to the sports community under the third round of AEF. Sports premises such as Wong’s fencing school that have been closed will receive a one-off HK$30,000 subsidy because their income is mainly from students attending classes and taking part in activities. The one-off subsidy to fitness centres will be reduced to HK$50,000 from HK$100,000. Billiard establishments, public bowling alleys and public skating rinks will receive HK$50,000. But this is unsustainable for everyone concerned and it’s time to find a compromise.