The benefits of sport for youth go far beyond healthy physical development. In community sports in particular, the motivation is simply to take part and to contribute, developing a sense of belonging in the process. This is often achieved through identification with other members of a cohesive local team. Inclusion is central. Winning, albeit a bonus, comes second.
Indeed, the social element of sport provides a bridge between people with backgrounds and of different ages. Sport also offers a unique way of developing good habits, positive attitudes and moral values. Respect for others, perseverance, hard work and self-discipline are among the key concepts of sportsmanship. Fairness is another. A fair player shows awareness both of themselves and of others. He or she thinks critically and acts responsibly with honesty and humility.
While equity and equality are also among the core values of sport, it must be said that egalitarian access – or the lack of it – to facilities for sport is a big problem in Hong Kong and this is one reason why the Federation launched a sports programme for youth. The programme began by offering training in sports for which facilities were available while taking young people from less privileged backgrounds out of their normal environment when access to opportunities for sport were lacking.
Sport offers a unique way of developing good habits, positive attitudes and moral values.
Take water sports, for example, and swimming in particular. According to a 2009 government-commissioned consultancy report,1 it is one of the most popular sports in Hong Kong. This was confirmed by an independent report2 published in 2019 that showed it to be second only to badminton in terms of popularity. Nevertheless, fewer than half of all Hong Kong secondary school students know how to swim.3 This is surprising, given the climate in Hong Kong, that the city has 44 public swimming pools, hundreds of private pools in schools, recreational clubs and private buildings and easy access to the sea. HKFYG’s outdoor centres offer watersports in an effort to redress this issue.
Shortage of facilities is not the main problem. A 2016 study4 by the Hong Kong Baptist University found that only 23% of the city’s schools opened their sports venues to the public outside school hours despite government subsidies for this purpose. This is far less than the percentage in some other countries, such as the US, where 57% open their facilities, Japan with 99% and mainland China with 29%, according to the same study. The real problem lies in inequality and a failure to rectify it. Instead, exclusive rights of access to facilities are given to a small minority even when those facilities are built on government land for which peppercorn rents are paid, international schools and private clubs being among them.
According to 2020/2021 figures,5 just 60 government schools out of over a thousand are taking part in the scheme and there are only 38 beneficiary organizations. The number of individual participants is 9,167. Indoor badminton facilities were available at just one school despite badminton’s continued popularity, attested to by a recent government-commissioned study.6 Access to a swimming pool was available at none of the schools. These figures speak for themselves, showing that much more needs to be done if egalitarian access to sports facilities for all is to improve. Sport for all is the ostensible goal but since we are a long way from reaching it, perhaps it must be admitted that sport is not really valued very highly in Hong Kong.
HKFYG’s outdoor centres offer watersports in an effort to redress this issue.
Nevertheless, in 2021, an outstanding sporting year for the local community when Hong Kong won six Olympic medals, a HK$1 billion pledge was made for sports development in the October Policy Address7. One of the stated goals was to “explore ways to further promote sports development in Hong Kong through enhanced professionalism in the sports sector and development of sports as an industry.” Specific mention was made of providing young people with job and development opportunities, if not of access to facilities.
Opportunities for all young people to achieve to their fullest potential in the world of work are warmly welcomed by the Federation, but where sport is concerned, surely access to opportunities for participation must come first. At a time when obesity in youth is on a rise and so much importance is placed on both physical and mental wellbeing, we look forward to progress in this regard.
Encouraging perseverance when faced with challenges, developing positive skills, attitudes and the prized team spirit that comes with shared goals, are at the heart of all work for youth. Today, our remit in community team sports has broadened. It includes virtual sports, a development that took on unprecedented importance during the two pandemic years that are nearly behind us now. In the future, while team sports and the community remain a central part of the Federation’s vision for healthy youth development, we also look forward to creating programmes that go further to build a sports culture that values the contribution being made to our economy by the sports industry and to generating enthusiasm for career opportunities in sports.
Meantime, we say that playing the game is what is most important in sport, not winning, and making opportunities available to all youth is the primary goal. Arthur Ashe, the only African American male tennis player to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon singles, was also an activist. He pushed forward inner-city tennis programmes for youth and once said. Arthur Ashe once said, “You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy.”