Private Recreational Leases

In March 2018 the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB) released its long-awaited ‘Review on Policy of Private Recreational Leases’ (PRLs), or should that have been ‘Review of Policy on Private Recreational Leases’? No matter, but this was not the only mistake. The HAB review was prompted by a report* issued by the Audit Commission in 2013 which implied that sports clubs were now unnecessary because many of their facilities ‘are commonly provided by the public sports facilities operated by the LCSD’.

The Audit Commission’s report revealed its lack of understanding that sports clubs, rrespective of whether they have their own facilities, are the bedrock of an effective sports system and that organized training and competition by clubs should be, and has been, at the heart of sports development in Hong Kong. In mitigation, the development of sport is not the Audit Commission’s area of responsibility so it is unsurprising that the report’s authors knew nothing about sport and confused it with recreation.

The HAB had been rather better informed and in 2011 told Legco that sports clubs had trained up a considerable number of elite athletes to represent Hong Kong in local and international competition and had provided training and competition venues to local sports leagues. This enthusiasm for sports clubs had come as a surprise because previous HAB policy papers had failed to even mention clubs, preferring to focus solely on the government’s role.

Nevertheless, the HAB was compelled to respond to the Audit Commission’s report, notwithstanding that it has taken five years to do so. In the meantime, there has been much ill informed public comment on the subject of clubs and PRLs and the granting of new PRLs was suspended, halting that avenue to sports development to the detriment of the public.

The review provides no definition of a club and it should be noted that many PRLs are held by organisations that are not clubs in the commonly accepted sense of the word, such as the Scout and Girl Guides Associations, District Sports Associations, and church organisations, although these also operate on a membership basis.

The review noted that “in the past there was an acute shortage of public sports and recreational facilities” and that this was what prompted people to form non-profit-making sports clubs and apply to the government for land on which to develop facilities, but fails to note that the acute shortage still exists and that the government takes no responsibility for meeting the deficit.

As the review notes, it was the government’s failure to provide sports facilities in the first place that created the demand for land on which to develop facilities to be managed by communitybased sports clubs. Such clubs provided a valuable community service and to attack them is to attack sport.

Space in this issue of the magazine does not permit a more detailed commentary on the HAB review so we will return to this in future issues. The review is available on the HAB website (
pdf) and is now the subject of a six-month public consultation ending on the 19th of September 2018.

* Direct land grants to private sports clubs at nil or nominal premium

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