Sport in the community

Evidence from elsewhere shows that widespread participation in sport helps to create a healthy, happy and harmonious society. Our government’s objectives are to promote sport in the community, support elite sport and make Hong Kong a venue for international sporting events, but it has no integrated plan to achieve any of these. Government-organised activity in public sports facilities has proven ineffective, resulting in a low level of community participation, a lack of success at Olympic and World Championship levels and a lack of international events in Hong Kong!

Experience elsewhere shows that sport is best organised by community-based clubs whose members serve in a voluntary capacity, bringing together all sections of the community and all age groups to take part in training and competition and to enjoy the social aspects of sport and of their clubs. Clubs are the backbone of an effective sport system and organisation of activity in public facilities needs to be progressively transferred to community-based clubs operating under contractual agreements for use of the facilities, defining their objectives and with no limits on the number of members.

The government should be a facilitator of community organised sport. It should not take upon itself the role of an organiser, neither should it dictate how sports organisations operate. Government’s role should be to provide facilities and financial support in pursuit of agreed targets and to let community-based sports organisations determine how these resources are used.

This change will increase participation, raise the performance standard of domestic sport, produce higher quality athletes for elite training and achieve greater success at international level. The change will also result in a more integrated and more harmonious society, with greater pride in the achievements of its athletes.

Hong Kong’s experience shows that it is not beneficial for the government to take on the role of dictating to sports organisations how they are to operate and for officials to control how public sports facilities are used. These historical policies are obstacles to the creation of a substantial club-based sports system where activity is organised by the community and are the main reasons why the percentage of people in Hong Kong active in sport is so low compared with many other countries.

The traditional government model is an obstacle to young people taking up sport and tends to shut out parents and retired players from volunteer and organisational roles.

Sport is a social activity and Hong Kong’s lack of sports clubs is hampering the role of sport in the development of a healthy and harmonious community and the raising of performance standards at domestic and elite levels. Lest the importance of this be overlooked, Denmark with 5.6 million people, has an effective sport system. A 2014 European Commission survey reported that 68% of Danes participated in sport at least once a week. The Danish approach to sport is not unique and other countries benefit from similar systems.

Our government’s policy towards sport does not appear to see it as something to be encouraged. Its approach is based on the past, when sport was a low-priority activity for families focused on earning a living whilst improving life opportunities for their children through study and hard work. But, over the last 30 years, there has been a very significant change with regard to the breadth and depth of demand for active sport within the community. This demand has not been met by any change in official policies.

How many Hong Kong people nowdays play an active sport (per month) compared with 30 years ago? Official figures are hard to find but those involved over this period will confirm that demand for sport and related facilities is growing and will continue to grow.

How should sports policy be managed in Hong Kong? As long ago as 1986, the British government investigated whether a dedicated department could discharge the role of an independent, executive body for sport. The conclusions were that an independent body could be governed by a board conversant with — and expert in — the problems of sport in a way that could not be replicated in a department. Secondly, such a board, while not completely independent of government (because it would be appointed and financed by government), would speak with considerable independence in a way not possible by a department. Thirdly, an independent body could employ professional sports administrators, while control of a department would be in the hands of senior civil servants who were seldom permanent and whose expertise lay elsewhere.

For these same reasons, Hong Kong needs an independent sports authority to determine policy for the use of public sports facilities, to plan and develop new facilities, to plan the provision of financial support to clubs and governing bodies and to do all the things needed to achieve the government’s objectives for sport in accordance with the needs of the community.

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