Earthquakes in Nepal come to a swift halt. Executions in Indonesia are postponed. Riots in Baltimore fizzle out. The planet drops everything to watch Hong Kong in shock and dismay. The Big Lychee’s reputation as a world city lies in tatters because of delays to its sports hub.
So says a South China Morning Post editorial. What ‘sports hub’, we ask? Why, the one slated long ago for Kai Tak – the one we all vaguely assumed had been scrapped as a pointless waste of money and space. The project is still on, it turns out. At least, that’s the plan. But (as the paper points out) two decades after it apparently became policy to turn Hong Kong into a centre for major sporting events, nothing has actually been done.
To their great credit, Legislative Council members have been holding up the HK$65 million funding necessary simply for the ‘pre-construction investigatory work’. This sounds like something to do with determining the site’s suitability – in order to avoid nasty surprises of the sort that befell the MTR when it found to its horror that there was hard stone beneath the New Territories, rather than something soft and mushy, which is why the cross-border Express Rail Link is costing an extra HK$20 billion or so. But the editorial implies that the ‘investigatory work’ would ‘throw some light on whether the proposed 50,000 seat stadium would be a white elephant on space that could be used for housing’.
So the HK$65 million is needed to discover whether we need to dedicate 28 hectares of space and billions of bucks to having a massive complex in which people wearing shorts would run round in circles. I could answer this question for a fraction of this amount (let’s say HK$10 million), and deliver my executive (one-word) summary this afternoon. I would like to think our lawmakers are thinking along similar lines. (The SCMP inadvertently hints at the same conclusion: 20 years after it became policy, we seem to be getting on quite happily without being ‘a centre for major sporting events’.)
We all know what is going on here. The government continues to suck vast amounts of the people’s wealth out of the economy and seeks to transfer yet more of it to its buddies in the construction industry, a sector that overlaps more than many realize with our old friends the property tycoons, who own all sorts of (often privately held) building and materials companies, which no doubt operate the usual cartel agreements. The standard excuse (and probably the original reason for the sports-hub policy circa 1995) is tourism. But with the city’s streets and transport systems sinking under the weight of swarms of visitors, the We Need More Tourists argument is – like residents’ patience – wearing thin. The SCMP (whose owner presumably holds shares in a cement company or something) latches onto an equally tired argument: we will ‘fall behind’ some tedious city we care little about, like Shanghai…
…or Singapore. Whichever.
We can only wish our lawmakers well in holding up this particular boondoggle. I would love to think they are going to make the most of it, and rouse the people’s righteous anger. This is a classic opportunity to gather together the yellow-umbrella brigade, the students, the housewives, the taxi drivers and everyone else against the tycoons. We need homes, hospitals, nurseries, elderly care places and parks, or just tax cuts. There is no call, beyond a dozen subsidized loser-athletes, for multibillion-dollar stadiums with diamond-studded retractable roofs for people in shorts running round in circles.
But I’m not hearing any of that. My hunch is that the lawmakers are holding this up as part of their Grand Filibuster Everything Always Gesture, which does so little to impress the public and gives the government and its supporters ammunition to use against the pan-dems. Which would be both sad and typical.