LCSD in deep water over unfair swimming lane use

Local | Wallis Wang 10 Jul 2020

The ombudsman has slammed the leisure and cultural services department for failing to ensure fair allocation and supervision of use of lanes in public pools.

Winnie Chiu Wai-yin said yesterday the LCSD did not effectively monitor national sports associations responsible for allocating lanes to affiliated clubs under the central lane allocation scheme, implemented in 2005 to provide stable venues for long-term training.

The LCSD first allocates lanes and sessions to the organizations. They are then supposed to coordinate with and nominate affiliated clubs to hire the allocated sessions.

But investigators received complaints of associations not doing so fairly. Also, many clubs frequently canceled bookings.

Chiu criticized LCSD for failing to define "training" clearly, allowing some clubs to use lanes for courses just like private clubs.

Chiu said there were reports of how some clubs used lanes for profit by allegedly asking members to transfer funds to private bank accounts to avoid detection. While the watchdog did not find any evidence to support the allegation, the incident reflected LCSD's failure to effectively verify if clubs were only using the lanes for non-profit activities.

"It is wishful thinking for LCSD to accept that all activities organized by clubs are not for profit, simply on the grounds they are non-profit-making organizations," Chiu said.

The watchdog suggested an independent panel be set up and put in charge of formulating an objective and transparent allocation mechanism after consultations. It also urged the government to strengthen supervision to ensure the clubs do not make profit.

It also reported a surge in complaints about inappropriate coaching activities that affect other swimmers at public pools - from 41 in 2016 to 73 in 2019.

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