For many Hong Kong football fans, May 19 is a red-letter day.
The reason: On this day 30 years ago, the city’s football team shocked China’s national team by scoring a 2-1 victory and edging out China to the World Cup qualifying round.
It was a beautiful penalty kick by Cheung Chi-tak that swung things around at the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing. I can still recall the beautiful moment from the live broadcast at that time.
But unfortunately it turned out to be the peak of the football era. What happened afterwards was a bit tragic, with local teams failing to win enough financial backing or audience support.
A cruel fact became evident: Most Hong Kong people do not watch Hong Kong football.
Fans rooting for local football matches have fallen from a peak of over 10,000 to just a few hundreds now. Also, gone are the days when generous sponsors such as Seiko or Bulova took it upon themselves to boost the sport’s prospects in the city.
Meanwhile, football has suffered a similar fate even in the mainland.
Although China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, is a diehard football fan, no one harbors any illusion that the nation has a chance in any major global tournament.
That is, however, not deterring some business tycoons from bidding for Chinese Premier League teams, as well as overseas football clubs, like drunken sailors.
Whatever one may do, it will be hard to expect a rematch of Hong Kong and China like the one 30 years ago as the two sides now prepare for a World Cup 2016 qualifier match on September 3.
For Chinese football to make progress, it needs big reform.
The world’s most populous nation excels in smaller sports such as badminton and table tennis, but when it comes to bigger ones such as football or volleyball, it doesn’t have much to show.
Perhaps it has to do with the national culture, where athletes mostly do better in individual sports rather than team events.
Now, coming back to Hong Kong, the city too needs to examine why it has failed to create an environment for football to reach its full potential here.
While corporates can take some of the blame, given their insufficient sponsorship activities, the government also has much to ponder.
Have the land policies, for instance, partly contributed to the decline of football in the city?
With sky-high property prices, will any tycoon find it worthwhile to build new football stadiums and promote the sport?
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