Don’t expand the elite system: Sports Institute head

The chairman of the Sports Institute, Lam Tai-fai, has expressed reservations about expanding the elite training system to cover more sports, saying this could affect the quality of top-notch athletes.

Following Hong Kong’s best ever performance at the Tokyo Olympics, there are growing calls for the government to review the system, which currently provides fully funded training, as well as sports science and medical support for 20 sports.

But speaking on an RTHK programme on Wednesday, Lam said there’s a dilemma.

“I don’t accept lowering the threshold for elite sports. Once you do, the overall quality would slip. Of course this would make it difficult for certain sports to join our institute, but we have to make a choice in this dilemma,” he said.

Among those who said more resources should be pumped into developing lower-profile sports is Pui Kwan-kay, the head of Hong Kong’s delegation to the Tokyo Games.

He said earlier this week that more resources should be put into sports that “have potential”, and not just those that have got good results.

Meanwhile, Lam also welcomed the government’s decision to speed up the expansion of the Sports Institute, saying it fills an urgent need as the facility reaches a bottleneck.

The government had announced that it will try to complete the expansion of the institute in June 2024 – almost two years ahead of schedule.

Lam said the number of full-time athletes, at around 500, will soon outgrow the institute’s capacity.

“For example, in fencing, we now have 15 pistes. With two athletes training on each piste, we can accommodate 30 at a time. But we have more than 30 professional fencers, there’s not enough space,” Lam said.

“[Staff] use tape to mend scratches on the floor, but because athletes need to train every day, there’s no time to fix them,” he added.

He said the construction of a new building will allow the institute to catch up with top-notch training facilities internationally.

Meanwhile, a Baptist University sports professor, Chung Pak-kwong, said on RTHK that he thinks more emphasis should be put on better developing sports at the primary and secondary school levels.

He added that retired athletes will also be able to go into coaching if there are more school-level competitions for different sports.