Don’t undervalue PRL sports clubs’ economic and wider contributions to Hong Kong

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Christopher Pooley, Commodore Aberdeen Boat Club, actively serving the sailing community in Hong Kong for 51 years. Photo credit: Aberdeen Boat Club

The Task Force on Land Supply has identified 27 sites occupying 341 ha of land held by sports clubs under Private Recreational Leases (PRL) considered to have the potential for public housing development, amongst other options. In the Task Force’s consultation survey, there are two choices of taking land from PRL clubs. Namely, taking 60 ha before 2026, and taking a further 120 ha between 2026-2046. If both options are chosen in the consultation, this will take 180 ha, or nearly 53% of sports PRL club lands. Therefore, all PRL sports clubs are seriously at risk and over half of their land could be lost to the Task Force.

One might wonder if the Task Force acknowledges the contributions of all the PRL clubs properly. PRL sports clubs are supporting the three objectives of the Government’s Sports Policy, which are promotion of sports in the community, high performance sports and promoting Hong Kong as a centre for international sports events. PRL clubs have been promoting, to various degrees, “sports for all” in the community by opening facilities to the public including local organisations and schools. For instance, 80% of the Aberdeen Boat Club’s sailing courses are attended by non-members. PRL sports clubs comprise both sports and social members, most of them are from the local community and most are neither rich nor powerful, though all have been and most still are taxpayers. Additionally, on a non-profit basis, they share the Government’s financial burden in nurturing community sports and elite athletes by providing essential facilities for a wide range of sports, such as pitches for rugby, football, cricket, and golf courses, plus sailing bases providing access to all of Hong Kong’s waters and islands. They also hold sports courses for children, youth and adults to nurture talent for generations to come.

Young people from the Hong Kong community are supported by the Aberdeen Boat Club. These non-members participate in the Southside Regatta (pictured here) and other events throughout the year. Photo credit: Aberdeen Boat Club

PRL clubs also regularly host mini rugby, soccer and cricket tournaments for thousands of children from all parts and Communities of Hong Kong and have been recognised by the Guinness Book of Records for the sheer scale of these events. Furthermore, PRL clubs regularly support major regional and international events bringing with them business and reputational benefits. For example, the sailing clubs have been providing support and assistance to major international events such as various Dinghy and Keelboat Class World Championships.

Neither should the Task Force overlook the historic value and contributions PRL sports clubs have made in the past century and a half. For example, Hong Kong Cricket Club founded in 1851 the Fanling Golf Course in 1889, and Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club in 1894 are some of the oldest sports clubs in the world. PRL clubs also provide opportunities for those with physical or intellectual disability to enjoy sports, such as the charity, “Sailibility”, which is actively supported by Aberdeen Boat Club and Hebe Haven Yacht Club.

PRL sports clubs also play a crucial role in Hong Kong’s economic success. The population of Hong Kong is ageing and there will be a diminishing workforce from 2023. Thereafter, competition will become tougher in the war for talent. In this regard PRL sport clubs are an important component of decision making by foreign companies and investors when considering where best for staff to live and work and the best location for setting up new businesses or regional headquarters. PRL sports clubs also contribute to community fitness and health, international reputation, attractiveness, competitiveness and livability for all Hong Kong residents.

In addition PRL clubs showcase Hong Kong to hundreds of millions of households watching internationally through professionally organised, world-class events. PRL clubs’ events are fundamental to Hong Kong’s reputation, and few could imagine Hong Kong without the Golf Open, Rugby Sevens, Soccer Sevens, Volvo Ocean Race and Beneteau Four Peaks Race, which is unique to Aberdeen Boat Club.

The Task Force has repeatedly said sacrifices have to be made, yet they have failed to take into account the importance of PRL sports clubs to the cohesive entity of an international city. By this omission they have created an element of concern and anxiety among PRL sports clubs, their members, and related communities and risk harming new membership applications while making Hong Kong look short-sighted to international media audiences. Thus, in my view – which I believe is widely shared throughout the disparate sporting fraternities – the Task Force should not to take back any PRL sports club lands. Rather, the government should instead consider allocating more PRL land in order to encourage sports development, and foster healthy lifestyles for all residents to the ultimate benefit of Hong Kong’s economy and global standing.

Some PRL sports clubs are doing better than others, but the separate and ongoing Home Affairs Bureau PRL consultation will surely encourage betterment in all areas for those clubs that currently underperform. PRL sports clubs have benefited Hong Kong’s society beyond just sports, so if you agree, please submit your opinion and survey form and tell the Task Force and government to leave PRL lands undisturbed to continue making their contributions to society.

(Printer – R&R Publishing Limited, Suite 705, 7/F, Cheong K. Building, 84-86 Des Voeux Road Central, HK)