Govt backing for sport ‘not just a fleeting phase’

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced a raft of measures to boost sports development, as she dismissed suggestions that the government’s support for local athletes is just a fleeting phase following Hong Kong’s outstanding performance at the Tokyo Olympics.

Lam said on Tuesday that the government will try to complete the expansion of the Sports Institute in June 2024 – almost two years ahead of schedule – and will apply for HK$990 million from the Legislative Council for the construction.

Speaking to reporters ahead of this week’s Executive Council meeting, Lam announced that the government and the Jockey Club Charities Trust will each fork out HK$150 million to set up a “booster fund” to upgrade sports science and medical support for both elite and disabled athletes.

Lam added that Home Affairs Secretary Casper Tsui will head a working group with the business and sport sectors to discuss what can be done to “build sports into an industry” in Hong Kong, adding that the minister will submit a report to her on what has to be done.

“When the Kai Tak Sports Park is completed in 2023, and when the public becomes more engaged in sports, I think Hong Kong should, besides coaches and referees, further develop sports into a career, a profession and an industry,” the CE said.

“We will need talents in a range of areas, including venue management, sports administration, sports science, mega event organisation, and so on.”

The moves come after Hong Kong achieved its best performance ever at the Tokyo Games, but Lam dismissed suggestions that officials’ support for athletes will only “last for three minutes” – saying the government had poured a lot of resources into the sector for over a decade.

Lam was also asked whether the government will purchase the broadcast rights for the next World Cup or the Paris Games in 2024, after it did so for the Tokyo Games enabling people to watch events at no cost on five licensed broadcasters.

She said even if the government is minded to do so, she could not disclose any ongoing negotiations.

Lam also criticised calls for Western democracies to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics.

“I think, Thomas Bach, the IOC chairman, has repeatedly said that ‘sports is sports’. One should not try to politicise sports,” she said.

“The spirit of Olympian is really to be stronger, and on this occasion to come together, because fighting Covid-19 requires solidarity, and every country, every government working in concert,” she said.

“So I would really resist any idea or suggestion to use political boycott in an occasion which should be promoting sports development, athletes excellence and solidarity, and I hope nobody will join this so-called call to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics.”