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The 2021 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon had a field of thousands, all of whom underwent Covid-19 testing before the race. Photo: May Tse

Hong Kong’s ‘short notice’ Covid-19 rules jeopardise sporting events, athletics boss says

  • ‘I understand the government’s concern about pandemics spreading, but they must also put themselves in our shoes,’ HKAAA chairman Kwan Kee tells the Post
  • Sun Hung Kai Properties Hong Kong 10K Championships, due to include 1,500 runners, cancelled on Wednesday after being told of 500 cap
Hong Kong’s athletics chief called for transparency and voiced concerns of a precedent being set for sporting events in the city, after a 10km race was cancelled following government insistence that it slash participant numbers.

The Sun Hung Kai Properties Hong Kong 10K Championships was on Wednesday called off four days before it was due to take place, with organisers having been told only the previous day that numbers would be capped at 500. Sunday’s race had 1,500 runners registered.

Swimming’s Cross Harbour Race, whose organisers have been in talks with government departments to increase its headcount, is also under threat after Hong Kong health authorities warned of a “worrying” rise in Covid-19 cases and a need to limit the scope of approvals for mask-off events.

Kwan Kee, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Athletics Affiliates (HKAAA), told the Post that the 10K race’s cancellation put in doubt the viability of events including the Hong Kong Trail Championships on September 4 and the Hong Kong Half Marathon Challenge on October 2.

If there were to be a shift in policy regarding mass-participation events, it could place question marks over rugby’s Hong Kong Sevens and the Hong Kong Marathon, both due to take place in November.

The Cross Harbour Race has been established in Hong Kong for more than a century. Photo: Sam Tsang

“The government said that epidemic prevention is its top priority. We intend to meet the Chief Secretary for Administration Chan Kwok-ki to explain our predicament,” Kwan said.

“It is critical that the topic be handled openly and that we be given the opportunity to complain and have our specific circumstances taken into account.”

In a joint statement on Wednesday evening, the Hong Kong China Swimming Association and the HKAAA put on record their dissatisfaction with the drastic cut to race quotas, calling for “greater transparency from senior government executives” and decisions to be “implemented in a more timely fashion”.

“I hope [the statement] sends a message to the Hong Kong government that they can’t do it in such a short period of time,” Kwan said.

“On Monday, we were still talking about 1,500 runners for the 10K event, then on Tuesday afternoon, they decided only 500 are allowed. How can we just let 500 people from 1,500 take part?

“It’s not fair to the runners. We had this same event last year and did it according to all pandemic regulations. How come we can’t repeat it this year?”

Kwan insisted that his association appreciated the need to safeguard public health and had gone to great lengths to do so, including through pre-race Covid-19 testing and vaccination.

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“I understand the government’s concern about pandemics spreading, but they must also put themselves in our shoes,” he said. “We do everything we can to comply with all pandemic preventive measures.

“The Hong Kong 10K Championships are the national championships from which we choose runners for international contests. Now we don’t know when we can arrange another one for this purpose.”

A spokesman for the Information Services Department pointed to the rise in Covid-19 cases as the reason for the restrictions placed on the sporting events, when asked for comment by the Post.

“The government has been liaising with the Hong Kong Association of Athletics Affiliates and the Hong Kong Swimming Association on the specific arrangements, including epidemic prevention requirements, for their proposed 10km championships and the Cross Harbour Race respectively,” the spokesman said.

Runners at Lung Wo Road in Tamar during the 2021 Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon. Photo: May Tse

“Recently, the daily number of new cases in Hong Kong has increased to over 6 000, with a significant increase in the proportion of suspected infections with the more infectious Omicron variant strains BA.4 and BA.5 sub-lineages. The large number of participants involved in both events and the need for participants to remove their masks when competing in the events have resulted in a higher risk of virus transmission.

“After thorough consideration and balancing of different factors such as the latest development of the epidemic, the nature and scale of the proposed event, the need for social and economic activities, etc., the applications for the relevant cluster gatherings for the two events were not approved.

“The government will continue to liaise with the event organisers and continue to process other applications received in accordance with ... regulations, again taking into account and balancing all relevant factors.”

Ronnie Wong Man-chiu, president of the swimming association, earlier said he had yet to receive any feedback from the government to the joint statement, and hoped to finalise numbers for the harbour race within two weeks to allow time for people to register.

Organisers of the Hong Kong Masters snooker tournament had arranged a press conference on Thursday to announce how they would stage their event, planned for October, but typhoon warnings forced its postponement to Friday.

The Hong Kong Marathon, scheduled for November 20, has still yet to open entries. Organisers last Friday told the Post that they hoped to release race details in the next two weeks.

The Hong Kong Sevens is set to return in November, but with restrictions in place. Photo: Reuters

The plan was to allow 37,000 runners to take part, after last year’s reduced field of 18,500 – all of them tested pre-race for Covid-19 and required to wear masks until they crossed the start line.

A source at the Hong Kong Rugby Union said that there had been no communication that the 85 per cent stadium capacity agreed for the Sevens would change.

“We continue to liaise closely with the government and our fellow sports associations on how to stage safe and successful events for the Hong Kong community to enjoy,” CEO Robbie McRobbie said. “The HKRU looks forward to the return of a full calendar of sports events to the city this year including November’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.”

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All three running events referenced by Kwan were oversubscribed.

The 1,500 slots for the 10K, to be held in Tin Shui Wai, were filled by the day after registration opened on July 26. The Hong Kong Trail Championship in Tai Mei Tuk reached its 500-runner limit on the day it was opened for entry on July 28, and all 1,000 slots for the Half Marathon Challenge in Penny’s Bay were filled on its August 11 registration day.

The HKAAA was required to refund only 50 per cent of the entry fee in the event of cancellation, but Kwan said the entire fee would be repaid.

“To be fair to the runners for the 10K Championships, because the cancellation notice was so short, we’ve opted to return 100 per cent to those that registered,” he said.