Are we getting runaround on football center?

Editorial | 5 Oct 2016

What's developing around the Jockey Club Kitchee Center in Sha Tin can be summarized in one word - strange.

It's strange because what's happened defies common sense. A football center built at a cost of HK$84 million must be an investment for the medium to long term, even if it's not meant to be permanent. Surely, it can't be for only one or two years!

The incident is curious because the Kitchee Sports Club only learned from the media about the government's plan to turn the 1.5 hectare site into a public housing estate.

If the movers and shakers controlling brownfields in Wang Chau were among the first to be lobbied softly on a public housing project, Kitchee chairman Ken Ng Kin must be among the last to be informed of the Sha Tin plan.

Perhaps Ng isn't a member of CY's House of Cards.

The center is puzzling in many ways. Its HK$84 million cost may not be huge, but it's definitely significant for a football club - despite the fact the Jockey Club ponied up HK$63 million.

If you were Ng, would you make a financial commitment like that without first securing an understanding from the government the short-term tenancy lease would be renewed?

Only the simple and naive would not. There must have been soft lobbying of some kind before the agreement was reached.

The department responsible for liaising with sports bodies is the Home Affairs Bureau, under former pro- establishment lawmaker Lau Kong- wah.

Has Lau failed in his role? Perhaps he should step forward to explain the huge gap in communication when Kitchee should have been the first to be lobbied - had soft lobbying been as common as claimed.

We haven't heard from Lau yet.

According to Kitchee, the football center idea was conceived back in 2011, when the government, via the Home Affairs Bureau, pledged to provide policy support. In 2012, Kitchee was allowed to lease the Sha Tin property.

In 2014, it secured the HK$63 million donation from the Jockey Club to start building the center, which took about a year to complete.

It's clear to both Kitchee and its donor that the multimillion dollar facility would last two years at most - unless the lease is renewed when it expires next year. Otherwise, this makes no sense whatsoever.

Football is more than a sport. If not, President Xi Jinping wouldn't have made great efforts to develop football in the mainland when he was still vice- president. While it's a sport for the masses, it can forge unity among the people politically.

Yesterday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying maintained his innocence over the fiasco. If that's true, then who's guilty of making the curious decision? Was Leung trying once again to implicate Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah - his likely CE election challenger - because the latter's steering committee is in charge of land supply?

Or was C Y merely accusing his favorite development chief, Paul Chan Mo-po, of failing in his job to find more land? There are obviously a number of questions begging for answers.

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