SOTY 2017: determination to go pro may be deciding factor for Sportsperson award

By Ben Young

Academics still matter, but the judges are looking for candidates who plan to be full-time athletes determined to excel on the world stage

By Ben Young |

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SOTY Sportsperson shortlisted candidates gather for a group photo.

Academic excellence and community service are important considerations when it comes to selecting the SCMP Student of the Year (SOTY) sportsperson, but as the judges put it, “at the end of the day, it’s a sportsman’s award”.

The three judges – vice-president of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, SCMP Sports Editor Noel Prentice, and executive manager of equestrian affairs at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Amanda Bond – all agreed the standard for the finalists was exceptional this year, meaning it could all come down to who wants to play their sport at the highest level.

“All of the candidates are very good at their sports and do a lot of extra things at school, which is great,” said Prentice. “But ultimately, who we really want to be the SOTY sportsperson is somebody who’s done really well on a world stage, or at least hopes to one day compete on a world stage.”

Fok, who has been a SOTY judge for four years, said the higher standards made picking this year’s winner especially difficult. “I’m not even talking about sports results: [even just in terms of academics and character] they have all improved. I still remember my first time doing this: not many students spoke fluent English, whereas this year they all spoke very well,”

he said.

“From a sporting standpoint, we see a lot more candidates who plan to be full-time athletes, and they are the ones that really stand out. I’ve had to adjust my selection process – academics are still important, but it’s more about seeing that determination that a true sportsperson should have.”

Bond, who said she was thrilled to be selected as a SOTY judge for the first time, was looking for a well-rounded young person who has the potential to go on to become not just a professional athlete, but someone committed to improving Hong Kong’s sporting culture.

(From left) Judges Noel Prentice, Kenneth Fok and Amanda Bond have some tough decisions ahead.
Photo: Henry Woo/SCMP

“Being originally from [Britain], I was shocked to see the intensity of academic study in Hong Kong, to the detriment of any other activity,” Bond said. “I believe that participation in sport provides essential physical and mental benefits which go towards the healthy development of young people. For me, continued recognition of the importance of sport for young people in Hong Kong is needed, and the SOTY sportsperson award is a great example of that.”

She added that being a representative for the sports industry requires more than just athletic ability.

“It’s about your complete package,” Bond said. “That means we’re looking for somebody professional, a great ambassador, somebody who is truly committed to their sport and watching it grow.

“Sport in Hong Kong relies heavily on volunteers, so I was looking to see applicants that enjoy helping, either with running events, encouraging their peers to participate, and coaching or assisting the sports associations in Hong Kong.”

The trio of judges all agreed that, although the final decision was unanimous, selecting a winner from among this year’s candidates was an extremely difficult process.

“Last year [the winner] was pretty clear,” Fok said. “This year I had several top candidates and they were all very close.”

Prentice agreed. “There were several candidates that excelled, but at the end of the day, you have to go for the best sportsperson – you can’t go for someone who only does it as a hobby.”

Bond had some simple, but inspiring advice for future SOTY – sportsperson candidates, and anyone who aspires to be an athlete.

“Follow your dreams. To become a successful athlete in Hong Kong, you have to work super hard – it’s not just about how talented you are, so as you go about your life and your career, make those contacts, keep those contacts, and don’t lose sight of your goals.

“If you work hard at your goals, you will get there, and you will achieve them.”

The Student of the Year Awards competition is organised by the South China Morning Post and Young Post and sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne