Broadcaster, commentator and almost-daily South China Morning Post columnist Albert Cheng announces why the government’s consultation paper Should Hong Kong Chuck 10/50/whatever Billion Bucks Down the Toilet to Host the 2023 Asian Games? is so half-hearted. The idea, he says, is simply to give face to the lineage of blazer-wearing sports supremo Timothy Fok, whose late father Henry – Korean War sanctions-buster and patriotic tycoon – was long Beijing’s most-trusted Hongkonger.
It could be that our top officials see expenditure of Hong Kong people’s money on such a project as impractical and pointless vanity at a time when so many basic health and welfare needs are going unmet. But, far more likely, with one failed Asia Games bid to their credit and a hostile citizenry snapping at them at every opportunity, officials just have little interest in the whole rigmarole. Even Home Affairs Secretary Tsang Tak-sing looks more lugubrious than usual peddling the non-starter.
One clue in favour of Cheng’s theory is that the government’s case for holding the mini-Olympics in the Big Lychee rests mainly on the benefits to local sport. The Asian Games would improve performance by our elite athletes and, apparently, boost confidence among just-plain-folks about taking part in healthy outdoor physical pursuits. Economic benefits, usually the one and only raison d’etre of government visions, come out at a seriously underwhelming HK$0.4-0.6bn, with a frank admission that the event would be a money-loser.
Warming to its Fok-friendly theme, the otherwise brief consultation document goes into detail about what are, we are told, three clear strategic directions for the long-term development of sport in Hong Kong:
- to help our elite athletes achieve excellence;
- to develop a strong sporting culture in the community; and
- to raise our profile as a centre for international sports events.
This is almost begging the public to shout the plan down. If our elite athletes should achieve excellence in anything it should be in a commercially productive activity, be it floor-sweeping, burger-flipping or any other vocation, rather than living off taxpayers’ money while indulging in such pastimes as cycling, table tennis or that cowardly fencing-with-face-masks. Developing a strong sporting culture in the community is as likely as turning Hong Kong into a city of art appreciation and scientific research (though officials have lavished taxpayers’ funds upon both these hopeless aims).
As for raising our profile as a centre for international sports events, this sounds like the sort of desperate mewling you get from loser cities like Dubai, Shanghai and Singapore, constantly vying with each other to host over-hyped bore-fests like Formula 1 car racing. Raymond Young, the top civil servant in the Home Affairs Bureau, wittily parodies the pathetic, hand-wringing anguish of such second-rate municipalities over at the new-look government propaganda site, where in-house reporters ask officials the questions the tiresome external media don’t:
“We can no longer assume that the international community will always focus on Hong Kong. This is a very small place and people will very easily forget about us. So we have to, from time to time, organize major international events to keep people’s interest in Hong Kong.”
That might sound logical to Timothy Fok (last seen swanning around at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi), but it won’t convince the other seven million of us, living in Asia’s undisputed and hard-to-forget hub of press freedom, rule of law, glamorous stock market listings, property price insanity, 3-D porn movies, and so much more. We don’t need no stinkin’ Asian Games, everyone is saying. Leave it to Incheon.
The public consultation paper does contain one highly interesting point. A brief section on ‘Other Considerations’ (p.13 of the English text) raises the possibility that our city’s air quality may not meet athletes’ expectations. Maybe this will satisfy those tireless souls who are constantly asking when officials will get around to doing something about the pollution problem. The answer is now clear: not for at least another 13 years.