What help do Hong Kong’s retired athletes get to adapt to life after sport?
Reporter: Jennifer Xu
You have spent most of your days in gruelling training. You have sacrificed time you could have spent with friends, family or studying. You may not have developed many social skills. Now, as others enter the most productive phases of their careers, you are about to retire. You are anxious about your life. You do not know what to do or how to find a job. This is a typical scenario for a Hong Kong athlete who is retiring from sport.
To help retired athletes adapt to life after competitive sport, the Hong Kong government has offered some help. Before 2008, this help consisted of funds to support further study for certificate, diploma or degree courses offered by local or overseas education institutes. There were also schemes like the Elite Athletes Education Subsidy and Elite Athletes Tutorial Support, which also provided assistance for study.However, only retired athletes of 14 designated “elite sports” were eligible to apply. The funds were administered by the Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI).
The situation changed in 2008 when the government gave HK$11 million , with HK$8.5 million directly go for helping retired athletes, to the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee of Hong Kong to launch the Hong Kong Athletes Career & Education Programme (HKACEP). Unlike the previous schemes, the programme covers all affiliated members of National Sports Associations’ athletes. It aims to help retired athletes to return to study and to find jobs.
The sportsmen and women can apply to enrol on an online English course, take language enrichment programmes or apply for scholarships for further study. Up till now, around 170 retired athletes have benefited from the programme. However, only 18 have found work through the programme. Most of them have received education assistance.
While there are no restrictions on the sports that applicants have competed in, they do have to satisfy other requirements and some athletes are concerned these may be too stringent.
Tong Siu-man, a bronze medallist of double sculls at the 2009 East Asian Games, is now a full-time coach of the Hong Kong, China Rowing Association. Tong succeeded in making an application for some courses through the programme. But while she finds the programme helpful, she believes the benchmarks for eligibility are set too high to help the majority of retired athletes.
In order to qualify, applicants should either place at least eighth in the Olympic Games (Summer or Winter) or be medallists at World Championships, Asian Games (Summer or Winter), Asian Championship competitions, National Games, World University Games or East Asian Games.
Yet, in the 2009 East Asian Games, 110 of 438 Hong Kong athletes were medallists. Only seven Hong Kong athletes ranked eighth or higher in the 2008 Olympic Games.
Chan Ka-man, the 2010 Asian Games bronze medal holder in the women’s 61 kg karate competition, agrees with Tong. She says that based on the requirements, nearly two-thirds of the members of the Karatedo Federation of Hong Kong are ineligible for the programme.