Date
21 July 2017
Shen Jinkang, head coach of the Hong Kong cycling team, complained that unless you win a medal, it’s hard to get government attention and support. Photo: RTHK
Shen Jinkang, head coach of the Hong Kong cycling team, complained that unless you win a medal, it’s hard to get government attention and support. Photo: RTHK

Sports policy: One man’s meat could be another man’s poison

The Rio Olympics are over, but the people’s excitement over the games still lingers.

Although Hong Kong athletes failed to win a medal in any of the events, people in the city have been highly impressed by their remarkable performance, dogged perseverance and sportsmanship.

After the games, Shen Jinkang, head coach of the Hong Kong cycling team, complained about the government’s “results-oriented” approach to sports development.

As he puts it, “you are virtually invisible until you have won a medal”.

Shen’s frustration could be well-founded, but Hong Kong athletes are definitely not the only ones facing this harsh reality.

Even the United Kingdom’s sports development policy is as results-oriented as it can get, so the question is whether their approach is necessarily applicable to Hong Kong.

In recent years British athletes have been performing very well in major international sports tournaments, and this year in the Rio Olympics, the UK team won a total of 27 gold medals, second only to Team USA.

According to a recent article published in The Economist, the UK team probably owes its remarkable progress largely to the almost ruthless sports policy of the British government, under which the number of medals won is the only measure of an athlete’s value and the more medals you have won, the more funding you can get.

Between 2000 and 2012, government funding for UK Sport, the official body overseeing the training and nurturing of athletes of the UK national team, almost quadrupled, with most of the money spent on sports teams that won the most number of medals in major international sports tournaments, such as the cycling team.

UK Sport has been running its national sports team like a big business: it’s entirely profit-driven (i.e., the number of medals won), and athletes are required to meet objectives and achieve set targets in major sports competitions.

Anyone who fails to do so will either face funding cuts or dismissal from the national team.

Such a ruthless policy did boost the performance of British athletes significantly over the past decade, but it has also raised public concern over the growing imbalance in sports development.

While priorities and preferential treatment are given to teams which have achieved the best results, like the cycling and rowing teams, other sports with less medals won are getting increasingly marginalized.

While the jury is still out on whether the British approach to sports training and development is appropriate, we believe it is important for our government to fully examine the pros and cons of such a practice, and exercise discretion when borrowing the experience of others.

As the old saying goes, one man’s meat could be another man’s poison.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 25.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]

CG

Hong Kong Economic Journal

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