The Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association has urged the government to set aside a proposal to develop the Wan Chai Sports Ground, citing the significant role the 38-year-old sports field plays in nurturing the city’s professional athletes.

“We are shocked, disappointed and concerned [about the proposal],” the association said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The Wan Chai Sports Ground is unique and irreplaceable… It has nurtured many generations of elite athletes in Hong Kong, most of whom used to train at the sports ground before they became professional. It is also the only training venue in Hong Kong open to track and field athletes on weekday evenings.”

wan chai sports ground
Wan Chai Sports Ground. Photo: Google Street View.

During his final Policy Address last Wednesday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying proposed redeveloping the Wan Chai Sports Ground into a new convention and exhibition centre, as well as “trendy and novel” recreation and sports facilities.

Opened in 1979, the sports ground has been a major venue for professional and school competitions. The proposal has drawn criticism from the public and the sports sector. The Wanchai Commons, a pro-democracy citizen group, said it “strongly opposes” the plan.

The Amatuer Athletic Association said the Wan Chai Sports Ground, located in the heart of the city with good transportation access, is an important training venue for its 9000-plus members.

“While a few elites and Hong Kong Athletics Team members can train at the Hong Kong Sports Institute and the Tseung Kwan O Sports Centre, over 8,000 of our members can only rely on the Wan Chai Sports Ground for regular training. Other sports grounds are not always open for training as they are open for public use or other purposes,” it said.

Amatuer Athletic Association
File Photo: Hong Kong Amatuer Athletic Association, via Facebook.

“On average, more than 200 athletes train at the Wan Chai Sports Ground every evening. We also noticed that the sports ground cannot meet the existing demand for sports facilities, and have told the Leisure and Cultural Services Department that more training facilities are needed.”

Talent shortage

The association also cited concerns about loss of talent if the sports ground is redeveloped, as its members would have less training time and fewer training facilities. Ultimately, it said, “fewer people will be able to become elites and Hong Kong’s track and field will face a shortage of talent.”

It added that the redevelopment of the Wan Chai Sports Ground – a popular venue for school competitions – would have an “immediate impact” on schools and the development of track and field in Hong Kong.

Long-distance runner Christy Yiu Kit-ching, who represented Hong Kong in the 2016 Olympic Games, told HK01 last week that she had many memories associated with the sports ground. “The Convention and Exhibition Centre is not small, so I don’t really understand why it needs [the sports ground] for its expansion,” she said.

wan chai sports ground
Wan Chai Sports Ground. Photo: Google Street View.

Wan Chai District Council Chair Stephen Ng Kam-chun said on an RTHK programme on Friday that he would like to see the government’s proposal before deciding his position on the issue. He said the government should have a comprehensive development plan before commencing the construction of the Wan Chai Sports Ground.

Secretary for Home Affairs Lau Kong-wah said on Saturday that the government has conducted consultation on the redevelopment of the sports ground, though a concrete timetable has not been drawn up.

The Home Affairs Bureau will assess the plan’s impact on the sports sector once the Trade Development Council has collected the views of stakeholders and released the proposal, he said.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.