Our athletes-Hong Kong’s glory

July 29, 2021 10:11
Hong Kong Olympic medalists, fencer Cheung Ka-long (gold) and swimmer Siobhan Haughey (silver) . Photo: Reuters/AP

A historic Olympic Games it indeed has been – the first Summer Olympics to have been postponed by a whole year; the first to have been held during a worldwide pandemic, with masks adorned and social distancing measures adopted for the opening ceremony; the first in which Bermuda and the Philippines won a gold medal, and where Turkmenistan won their first ever medal.

‘Tis also one of the – if not the – best-performing Olympics for Team Hong Kong. Whether it be the fencing legend Cheung Ka-long (Gold), the dexterous and incredible swimmer Siobhan Haughey (Silver), or, indeed, the many who – whilst less favoured by the Gods of fortune and having narrowly missed out on the sweet prizes – are no less talented and deserving of recognition as their peers. Hong Kong’s athletes have done us proud – they’re certainly stars in our eyes.

The dedication and perseverance required to be a national team athlete – whether it be the extensive, rigorous training they undertake, the mental ups-and-downs that interpolate with their training routines, or, indeed, the extreme anxiety in the run-up to and throughout the course of the competition, these factors, in conjunction, render the trade by no means a straightforward task. Indeed, it is uniquely taxing, laborious, and comes with its fair share of excruciating pain, sweat, and labour.

Hong Kong isn’t a particularly sports-friendly city. We’ve had individual philanthropists and businessmen who have generously and magnanimously donated vast sums to the maintenance and operations of sporting organisations and charities. We also have a sprawling scene of associations and clubs – ranging from football to tennis, swimming to fencing, and beyond. Yet fundamentally, the infrastructure remains lacking – retired athletes often have few careers to turn to; professional athletes must endure the substantial economic and personal calamities that accompany a career that is, to put it mildly, under-recognised and by no means celebrated in the narrowly defined hierarchy of jobs valourised by Hong Kongers. Under-funding, a lack of transparency and accountability, and gaping holes in governmental provision for “minority sports” – e.g. sports that lack popular appeal or critical mass – are perennial problems that must and should be tackled, if we are to ensure that the successes of those at the Olympics could be replicated and accessed by others who lack the wherewithal and institutional support. So there’s a long way to go, despite the noble intentions and sacrifices made by coaches, donors, club owners, and select bureaucrats within the government.

Indeed, with the zeitgeist being one in which politicisation and sensationalisation of public discourse are widely encouraged and propagated – including by select members of Hong Kong’s august establishment, it is no surprise that some of the city’s delegation have come under undue, unwarranted, and frankly bizarre flak… over trivialities. Not only must athletes overcome challenges concerning the lack of training venue and facilities, the absence of institutional support for select sports, and the deficiency in empathy and understanding from the crowd – they must also reckon and deal with the immense political pressure that comes from failing to toe, to absolute precision, the imaginary lines advanced by careerist politicians seeking to climb the greasy ladder through acrimonious sycophancy. I do not, for one, envy their predicaments.

With all that said, let’s set this all aside for now. For now, let us return to the good news (indeed). As a Hongkonger, as a citizen of Hong Kong, China, I’m proud of our city’s athletes – just as I am proud of our country’s athletes. We can celebrate our city and country – concurrently. Those who insist that celebrating Hong Kong pride – and embracing our distinctive identity – must come at the expense of acknowledging our nation’s past, present, and future, are fundamentally confuddled by their myopia and insecurities.

Similarly, to those “patriots” who bask vicariously in the glory of the Chinese national team by parroting officially sanctioned rhetoric – it’s high time to recognise that truly patriotic citizenship requires more than lip-service: it requires a robust, comprehensive, and fundamentally developed understanding of the nation, one that should and cannot be kept at the level of superficial, vain slogans. Given that Hong Kong is indeed an inseparable, inalienable part of China, it’s imperative that we do not detract from the accomplishments of our own kin – just to court an additional political favour or two.

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HKEJ contributor