Arc of Tragedy: A young blind football star’s life ends in mystery

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The tragic death of Hong Kong’s first blind goal scorer in international play after a football tournament was followed by a series of bizarre behaviour from the organisers. Justice seems remote.

【中文翻譯:盲人足球羅生門 林榮順死因成謎

Mr Lam Wing-shun (林榮順), a talented young blind footballer, passed away six months ago due to a concussion he allegedly suffered during an international blind football tournament. Until today, the circumstances leading up to his death remain unclear, and events that followed were even more suspicious. Mr Lam is survived by his mother and younger sister, and the curious circumstances surrounding his death has left a gaping hole in their lives.

On December 16th and 17th last year, the Hong Kong Blind Sports Federation (HKBSF) held the 1st Hong Kong Open 5-a-Side Blind Football Tournament at the King’s Park Sports Ground. In the final game of the tournament, Mr Lam, the first Hong Kong player to score an international goal for Hong Kong in a blind football match in 2011, scored Hong Kong’s only goal of the competition. This goal would be Mr Lam’s last.

Complaining about headaches and nausea, Mr Lam was sent to the hospital more than an hour and a half after the final whistle. Twenty days and several operations later, Mr Lam passed away on January 6th. He was 23 years old.

What transpired during the final game and up until the ambulance carrying him arrived at the hospital, according to official records, remains ambiguous due to several conflicting accounts. Chiu Chi-wun (趙芷媛), a close friend of Mr Lam, quotes Mr Lam’s attending physician Dr Wong Ping Hong (黃秉康) saying his patient suffered a severe brain hemorrhage (血管出血) caused by acute trauma (急性創傷) to the head, and said the injury was inflicted within a day. Lam Chor-yan (林楚恩), a social worker helping Lam’s family confirmed Ms Chiu’s statement. Dr Wong was contacted, but the Queen Elizabeth Hospital told HT they could not provide additional information due to the case going to the Coroner’s Court.

The fact that it took that long to get Mr Lam to the hospital, and odd behaviour later on, has led Mr Lam’s closest friends and family to question whether the organiser handled his injury appropriately.

“We really question whether those in charge underestimated Mr Lam’s situation, leading to delayed treatment.”- Ms Chiu Chi-wun, Convenor of the Concern Group

Concerns raised

Since his death, a group of Mr Lam’s friends and colleagues established the “Lam Wing-shun Concern Group” (Concern Group), and, in search of the truth, have continuously locked horns with the HKBSF. Ms Chiu Chi-wun, who is also the convenor of the Concern Group, had known Mr Lam for more than a decade. Both Ms Chiu and Mr Lam were students at the Ebenezer School for the Visually Impaired, and the two became close when Mr Lam joined the Christian Fellowship, and later on, Ms Chiu’s church. “We would talk about important things such as life and values, so naturally we got to know each other very well,” says Ms Chiu.

Ms Chiu Chi-wun explaining the situation at the Concern Group’s booth in Wan Chai during the July 1st march. In front of her was Mr Ho handing out leaflets. (Photo provided by the Concern Group)

A press release issued by HKBSF on June 10th, provides the organiser’s version of the story: Mr Lam complained he “felt a bit of a headache” (覺得有點頭痛) after the final match. The goalkeeper then brought him to the St John’s first aid station, and it was determined there was nothing out of the ordinary (並無異樣). Only after the team’s debriefing, did Mr Lam complain about discomfort in the locker room again. St. John’s first aid team then called an ambulance for Mr Lam. Mr Lam was conscious on the way to the hospital, and the team’s coach contacted his family. The coach and a HKBSF staff member stayed at the hospital until Mr Lam completed the surgery after midnight.

The ‘acute trauma’ that might have launched the sequence of events that resulted in death remains unknown. Under blind football rules, players on the field are either wholly or partially blind. All participants are blindfolded to equalise their visual capacity. Meanwhile, coaches, referees and goalies are not blindfolded and have normal vision.

Foul call

Ms Chiu has doubts as to whether the HKBSF’s story is entirely true. Since Mr Lam’s death, the Concern Group has spoken to six of his seven teammates, including Keith Tang Tsz-long (鄧子朗), Chui Man-chun (徐文俊), and John Li Chun-yin (李俊彥). Speaking to HT, they explained that Mr Lam threw up at one point and had non-stop nosebleeding, a crucial point not mentioned in the statement.

The press release stated that Mr Lam was fine during the after game debrief. Yet, Mr Li and other players told HT that, despite Mr Lam’s request to leave early, the coach had told him to “stay and listen first”. “We really question whether those in charge underestimated [Mr Lam’s] situation, leading to delayed treatment,” suggests Ms Chiu.

According to witnesses, after Mr Lam was sent to the hospital, the football coach asked his teammates not to disclose anything to outsiders. “The players began to believe the situation was more severe than they thought and began speaking to Mr Lam’s close friends,” such as herself, says Ms Chiu.

What came after was even more curious. According to Ms Chiu, members of HKBSF who knew Mr Lam were allegedly told by representatives of the HKBSF that the family did not want anyone to visit Mr Lam during his stay in the hospital. Ms Chiu says the representatives were lying, “I asked Mr Lam’s mother if she wanted his friends to visit him, and she said of course she did. So we were quite puzzled to find out HKBSF had told members otherwise.”

“[HKBSF] completely made it up.” – Ms Chiu Chi-wun

That was not the only instance of misinformation coming from the HKBSF camp. Mr. Tang, Mr Li, and Mr Chui, along with two other members of the football team, went to HKBSF to pick up their travel expenses. According to their recollection of the meeting, Mrs Grace Chan (陳梁悅明), founder and CEO of the HKBSF, tried to explain how the organisation was not at fault for Mr Lam’s death. Speaking of the night Mr Lam passed away, Mrs Chan said she had the impression that Mr Lam had been recovering well, and that he briefly regained consciousness.

“I met with Mr Lam’s attending physician in May, and he told us Mr Lam suffered from a blood hemorrhage, and until his death he was not conscious to communicate with anyone,” says Ms Chiu. She claims, “[HKBSF] completely made it up.”

Furthermore, Mr Tang, Mr Li, and Mr Chui are all on record with HT that Mrs Chan had accused the hospital staff of inserting the feeding tube incorrectly into Mr Lam’s lungs, leading to his death by suffocation. Ms Chiu has since refuted Mrs Chan’s claims, “[Mr Lam’s] doctor told us there were no signs of medical negligence in the reports. He also stated that since [Mr Lam] was fed through the feeding tube at 11 pm every night, any complications would have happened then, but not at 1 am (the time of Mr Lam’s death).” The Queen Elizabeth Hospital communications department explained that HT could not speak to Dr Wong to confirm Ms Chiu’s comments, citing the upcoming Coroner’s Court inquest.

About a month later, the five aforementioned players, either furious at how their late teammate’s injury was handled, or worried they could share the same fate, quit the HKBSF’s blind football team.

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Mr Lam was an inspiration to others before his death. (Photo provided by the Concern Group)

February Farce

Perhaps the most absurd act, was on February 10th. The following is Ms Chiu’s account of what happened.

That day, HKBSF programme manager Dick Tam (譚偉昌) and officer Liu Tak-kin (廖德健) called Mr Lam’s mother, asking permission to visit. This was not uncommon, as they had made a practice of making unannounced appearances at the house, asking Mrs. Lam to sign documents. Mrs. Lam is illiterate, thus unable to read the documents presented.

It was by chance that HKBSF’s representatives and Ms Choi both appeared at Lam’s home at the same time – HKBSF

Ms Chiu, who regularly visited the family after Mr Lam’s death, was at the scene. “I told [Mrs Lam] she could refuse if she wanted to, but right after she hung up, they almost immediately knocked on the door.” According to Ms Chiu, Mrs Lam finally let them in, and the pair had come with two documents to sign, and Ms Choi Ching-yan (蔡澄昕), a self-proclaimed “visually impaired medium.”

Also from Ebenezer School, Ms Choi said she was a friend of Mr Lam’s and claimed to bear a message for Mrs Lam. “Mr Liu introduced Ms Choi,” says Ms Chiu, “and said Mr Lam had told her his death was caused by a nurse’s carelessness.”

Mr Tam chimed in, explaining that Ms Choi could see the dead and ‘channel’ Mr Lam’s spirit, allowing the family to ‘speak’ to Mr Lam. The medium, Ms Choi said Mr Lam was “present”, and asked Mrs Lam, “would you like to speak to Wing-shun?”

After Mrs Lam nodded to the question, the medium began speaking into the air, drinking from a bottle of water and pouring it on the floor. “She started clutching her head and cried hysterically, saying she was suffering and her head hurt a lot.”

Mr Liu was the first to ask questions, asking the medium how Mr Lam died. The medium, now speaking as Mr Lam, said after his craniotomy (operation to remove part of his cranial bone), a nurse had mispositioned his head, causing his death. When Mr Liu asked ‘Mr Lam’ how he was injured, he said his hand was behind him when he tripped, and he couldn’t protect his head.

“Mrs Lam was quite distraught and when prompted by Tam to ‘speak to her son’, she lamented why Mr Lam had to die so young,” describes Ms Chiu. “Ms Choi replied it was Mr Lam’s own fault he tripped and hurt himself.”

Asked by Mr Tam to speak, Ms Chiu asked ‘Mr Lam’ to recite their church cell group’s motto. “[The medium] replied, ‘the church stuff?’ And I asked her, ‘what else could I be referring to?’ She then fell silent on the table, and ‘woke up’ after a minute.”

Ms Chiu shares that Mrs Lam was severely afflicted by the incident and asked her whether it was really her son. Even to today, she asks Ms Chiu if Mr Lam could really be suffering on the other side.

Ms Chiu’s account of the encounter [with the medium] has been widely reported in the media, but HKBSF has yet to publicly refute the story.

An unlikely coincidence

Ms Chiu’s account of the encounter has been widely reported in the media, but HKBSF has yet to publicly refute the story. Instead, it has since claimed it was by chance that HKBSF’s representatives and Ms Choi both appeared at Lam’s home at the same time, and that the medium’s actions were by no means arranged or instructed by the organisation. Although, HKBSF has insisted that Mrs Lam had agreed to the process. Ms Choi also offered her apologies to the Lam family through the HKBSF for the distressed she caused.

The Tape

In their quest to find out what really happened on the 17th, the Lam family have repeatedly demanded the HKBSF to provide copies of the footage of the football tournament in December last year. All to no avail.

Lam Chor-yan, a social worker from the Hong Kong Blind Union, has been acting as the family’s liaison with HKBSF.

According to Ms CY Lam, the family had already requested the tapes when Mr Lam got injured. After the HKBSF invited Mrs Lam to view parts of Mr Lam’s final match at their office on two separate occasions, Mrs Lam requested the video to be taken home for closer examination. HKBSF claimed a formal request in black and white would be needed, claiming that, because the videos contain faces of the blind footballers from the other teams, permission from their respective associations would be needed.

Ms CY Lam says she sent two such letters to programme manager Dick Tam on May 20th and June 1, but on the Commercial Radio interview and the June 10 press release, HKBSF claimed they received none of them. “They lied and claimed they received none of [the letters],” says Ms CY Lam. “It was only when they were handed the letter on air, were they forced to receive it.”

On the radio interview, host Stephen Chan handed Mrs Chan a copy of the letter, and Mrs Chan promised on air to give her counterparts a one week deadline. HKBSF did not reply to Ms CY Lam’s follow-up e-mails until two weeks ago, stating because Mr Lam’s case has entered civil court proceedings, HKBSF will not disclose any of the footage.

“They lied and claimed they received none of [the letters].” – Yan, Hong Kong Blind Union social worker

Final resting

Ms CY Lam has also been helping Mr Lam’s family with organising the funeral and applying for financial help, as the family currently relies on comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA).

The first time Ms CY Lam had visited the HKBSF office with Mrs Lam, the organisation had arranged for a social worker with the Yan Chai Emergency Relief Fund (仁濟緊急援助基金) to attend the meeting. “If they claim they helped with the funeral, I think that was the only time,” says Ms CY Lam. “But we would have applied for it ourselves anyway.” The fund helped cover one third of the fees for the funeral.

HKBSF also offered to buy a columbarium niche to house Mr Lam’s remains in a private columbaria, but the Lam family has refused to accept it so far because the location they provided is unlicensed and is therefore illegal.

The organisers have also claimed a basic insurance policy was purchased for the tournament to safeguard the wellbeing of participants. Lam’s family has yet received any compensation from this policy.

“To me, it seemed like an attempt to relieve [HKBSF] of any responsibility.” – Fernando Cheung, Labour Party Legislator

“It’s about justice.”

At the July 1st march this year, members of the Concern Group launched a public petition to channel public support to pressure HKBSF into meeting their four main demands, namely to 1) admit to their faults in the handling of Mr Lam’s injury; 2) provide Mr Lam’s family all available videos from the tournament; 3) apologise to the Lam family; and 4) publicly provide an account of what really happened. As of the deadline of this article, the group has received more than 8,000 signatures.

Standing with them for a time, was Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung (張超雄). He got in touch with Ms Chiu and Ms CY Lam, and has also spoken with Mr Lam’s mother. “The medium incident only frightened them and added salt onto their wounds,” says Mr Cheung. “To me, it seemed like an attempt to relieve [HKBSF] of any responsibility. It would be infuriating to anyone, especially given I’ve met his family.”

“I don’t understand why [HKBSF] would be this evasive, and use such methods. So I really feel I should help them,” says Mr Cheung. “It’s about justice.”

Fernando Cheung at the Concern Group’s booth. (Photo provided by the Concern Group)

In his position, Mr Cheung hopes to bring the incident to the Government’s attention, “I have spoken to Mrs Betty Fung (馮程淑儀), Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs. Her response was positive, but she has since expressed that, because the HKBSF isn’t directly funded by the Home Affairs Bureau (HAB), they’re forced to find other means to start a discussion.”

Replying to HT’s request to comment on their involvement, the HAB was just short of admitting the matter was not under their jurisdiction. Despite the fact that Mr Lam was representing Hong Kong in an international sporting event, the HAB explained that neither HKBSF, nor the venue of the match are subvented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), and that the HKBSF does not receive funding support from the HAB or the LCSD. The spokesperson added that the HAB is “deeply saddened by the incident”, and hopes the HKBSF could “quickly give a clear account of the incident to the family of Mr Lam ”.

According to Ms CY Lam, Mrs Lam still hasn’t truly recovered from her son’s death. “He was the axis of the family and everyone hinged on him. Now that he’s gone, the family has collapsed.”

Arc of tragedy

Mr Lam was known by those who knew him for his optimism and fighting spirit. No stranger to adversity, Mr Lam lost his sight at the age of four after a medical error in Guangdong. Upon arriving in Hong Kong, Mr Lam and his mother and sister were abandoned by his father. Yet, no physical disability or circumstance could stop him. After being accepted by prestigious local high school St Paul’s College, Mr Lam worked his way to study Social Work at City University. “The family had high hopes for Wing-shun to bring them out of poverty,” says Miss CY Lam. “Mr Lam’s mother doesn’t know what to do anymore. She told me she thought of taking her life.”

On request for an interview, Dick Tam, on behalf of HKBSF, replied saying they did not have anything to add to the statement issued on June 10, saying what happened with Mr Lam was “indeed an accident”, and the Concern Group’s accusations were “serious and untrue”. He also promised to give their response when the “investigation is completed by the Police and the Coroner’s report is available”.

“The family had high hopes for Mr Lam to bring them out of poverty” – Yan, Hong Kong Blind Union social worker

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The footballer. (Photo credit: Hong Kong Jockey Club)