What about sport for all?

SCMP July 25, 2005

The railroading of arrangements to hold the Olympic equestrian events in Hong Kong is a classic example of how Hong Kong sports is being run by and for the benefit of an elite. They seem to care little about wider participation in sports and the health of the people at large.
Without wishing to sound personal, it is hard to avoid commenting on the appearances of the two people who have most influence on the development of sport in Hong Kong - home affairs chief Patrick Ho Chi-ping and Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, head of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee. When, one must ask, did these two last engage in any sporting activity requiring significant physical exercise?

Hong Kong's genuine sporting heroes - the homegrown talents such as Lee Lai-shan and her fellow windsurfers, the cyclists, rowers and runners who battle Hong Kong's smog and traffic to train, the striving badminton and squash players - are ignored so that a small bunch of fat cats can parade their self-importance on the international stage.

There is no reason in principle why Hong Kong should not hold the Olympic equestrian events, though high summer could be hard on the horses. However, is it not extraordinary that a small group of people has bypassed Legco and decreed the spending of vast amounts of money to host a sport in which only a tiny number of citizens partake and for which it is incapable of raising a team?

As it is, the equestrian events remain in danger of being expelled from the Olympics because of their very high cost and the small number of countries able to send teams.

It used to be said in colonial times that Hong Kong was run by "the Jockey Club, the Hongkong Bank and the governor - in that order". The bank may have slipped in the ranking, but the Jockey Club is very much still there. The manner in which it has been able to take over the Sports Institute's land and facilities to stage these games illustrates its unbridled power - and the wealth accorded by its betting monopoly.

I do not doubt that racing in Hong Kong is very well managed and that a combination of enthusiastic horse owners and public punters all willing to spend money on their hobby has created a high standard of racing. But racing and equestrianism are different disciplines. The claim that bringing the Olympics to Hong Kong will raise the profile of sports here is nonsense. Horse riding in this cramped territory will always be for a tiny minority, and is currently being subsidised by the Jockey Club's betting monopoly.

The Jockey Club itself is in many ways an example of how the elite works to protect interests that often have little to do with sports.

Power lies not so much with the 17,500 members, or even the 5,000 racing members - who are mostly the ones with real interest in horse racing.

It lies with the stewards and the 200 voting members. The latter group includes the very same Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen who pressed RTHK into abandoning race broadcasts, and finance chief Henry Tang Ying-yen, an honorary steward.

Is Mr Tsang a racing enthusiast? If not, why is he among the 200 governing this sport and giving the club the resources to allow whoever is chief executive in 2008 to ride the world stage for a brief moment?

Meanwhile it should be noted that Mr Fok is among those pressing for the building of an international-standard sports stadium at Kai Tak. This would be fine if the existing stadium at So Kon Po could be filled more than twice a year.

Why not, instead, give a similar amount of money and land to schools to enable sports to play a much bigger role in the life of secondary students, and provide facilities which could be used by large numbers of adults unable to afford horse riding or golf.

But the unsporting elite wants monuments and construction contracts far more than it cares about sports and health for Hong Kong people.




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