HK Eager to Play Bigger Sports Role in Asia

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) sets out to bid for the 15th Asian Games with an aim to boost its international status as a center in Asia for hosting international sports events in the new millennium. The Hong Kong's bidding, the first of its kind in the city's history, was officially begun when Timothy Fok, president of Hong Kong's Sports Federation and Olympic Committee (SF&OC), submitted Hong Kong's application to host the Games at a meeting of the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) held in Kuwait in late November.

"This is an honor for sports in Hong Kong, " said Fok who proposed the idea of the SAR hosting Asia's largest sports event --the Asian Games in June, 2006.

"We believe that hosting the Asian Games will elevate Hong Kong's status as a center in Asia for hosting international sports events," said a HKSAR government spokesman after the Executive Council decided to support SF&OC's bidding proposal.

Hong Kong will submit a formal bid, which will be subject to the SAR Executive Council's approval, after receiving an invitation from the OCA - - expected in March next year.

OCA members will visit the bidding cities from June before making a final decision in November.

Hong Kong is likely to face stiff competition from sporting-venue-packed Kuala Lumpur, where the Commonwealth Games was hosted last year.

Other contenders for the 15th Asian Games are Qatar, Syria, and Uzbekistan.

Pusan, South Korea is hosting the 2002 Games.

Since the HKSAR government has ruled out building specific sports grounds for the Games, questions were raised about how Hong Kong could cope.

But Fok said "faith and determination" were the keys to success." The substance of the event is more important."

"Facilities have always been a problem of concern to sportsmen. There is now a target for the government to strengthen those facilities. But I must stress that this plan is not designed for the 2006 Games," he said, adding Hong Kong should "strengthen sports facilities to raise our living standards."

The biggest sports complex nowadays in Hong Kong is the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium exclusively for football matches.

Some people cited the region's lack of experience in staging any major international sporting games and expressed concern that its facilities may not be world class.

In recent years, especially after its return to China, Hong Kong has organized more and more international events. Among them, the Fourth World Short Course Swimming Championship, the Fifth world Wushu Championships, the Hong Kong Tennis Open and Diving Grand Prix, have been hosted in 1999.

In early May 1999, Hong Kong successfully hosted the first national event -- China's National Archery Champions Championship.

It shows that Hong Kong has opened the door to the sports world and wants to play a bigger role in Asia.

"We have the ability to host the games, and I'm sure it will benefit Hong Kong in all aspects," a senior government official has said.

With the Walt Disney theme park due to open in 2005, there is definitely potential for promoting the park and the sports event together. Staging the Asian Games would do more to promote Hong Kong's international image than reaping commercial gains.

Fok said: "With the help of the HKSAR government, we do have confidence in bidding for the Games and developing Hong Kong, especially in the area of sports in depth."

In last decades, hosting major Games, like Olympic and Asian Games, have brought about substantial benefits to the organizing cities' economy, including major contributions to enhancing tourism industry, to stimulating sports, to reinforcing its international city figure and to raising work opportunities.

Hong Kong, known for its status as a regional business and financial center, possesses a stable society, convenient communications, a forest of hotels, and first-class telecommunication. But the city is still on the way of recovery from the setbacks caused by the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

While the government intends to maximize private sponsorships and upgrade the existing facilities without building new sports venues, it does not expect to make money out of the event.

It was reported that 200 million HK dollars would be needed for the existing facilities' improvements.

Nowadays Hong Kong's sports are amateur. To be accustomed to the professionalism trend in international sports and to attract more sponsorships, SF&OC has deleted the word "amateur" from its former title early in 1999.

The big change will enable Hong Kong's sports to stride into a new era in the new millennium. (By Sportswriter Liang Jinxiong, Xinhua)

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