Judges deserve better: decision time again for Hong Kong’s only Olympic-level gymnastics official in Rio
When Hong Kong’s own Yuen Ka-keung walks into the Rio Olympic Centre this month he will carry with him the power to decide who will have their countless years of hard work, sweat and tears rewarded with a shining Olympic gymnastics medal.
Yuen is the only official from Hong Kong who will be adjudicating the gymnastics competition in Rio.
But irrespective of the power he wields in Brazil this month the 35-year-old has one simple wish – that the authorities back home start taking sports judges more seriously.
“I hope that the Hong Kong government will begin to acknowledge the referees, that we are part of the sporting team,” he said.
“The government and the [Hong Kong] Olympics Committee somehow feels that referees are secondary.”
Yuen fell in love with gymnastics when he was in secondary school. He turned his passion into a commitment to the sport by sitting exam after exam in order to qualify as an international judge.
Only the best judges make it to an Olympics and for Yuen this involved three top-level exams before he, himself, was finally judged qualified to recognise the different gymnastics manoeuvres and able to score them properly.
Before Rio, Yuen had adjudicated in several international events, including the 2012 London Olympics and the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing.
But what has troubled him most over the years is the lack of recognition sports judges like him receive from the Hong Kong government.
“The government needs to see that it is a kind of glory for Hong Kong for its people to be judging [in international events],” he said.
Yuen, who works as a civil servant by day, said sports officials like him can apply for subsidies from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to take part in international sporting events – but these allowances usually cover only 40 per cent of the expenses incurred by the mostly volunteer referees and judges.
As for the on-event gymnastics competition in Rio, Yuen believes the men’s events will be a battle between Asian giants China and Japan – with Japan likely to be the big winner.
“Although the China team has trained very hard, the Japan team is better,” he declared.