However, Mak Pui-hin, a retired competitive squash player takes a different view. She says that Hong Kong athletes can be divided into five classes in a pyramid. Those at the bottom of the pyramid will realize they are unable to climb up after a few years of training and competition. They will withdraw from the team and take care of themselves. Those who remain in the Hong Kong Team are either at the top of the pyramid or have the ability to become top athletes.
Mak says it is easy for athletes in this group to qualify for the programme. For example, only nine countries participate in the East Asian Games, so the competition among athletes is not very keen. Besides, there are also some team events. Reserve team members also get medals if their team wins in an event.
Despite Mak’s optimism, some athletes are pessimistic about their chances. A high jumper, who prefers to remain anonymous, plans to retire in 2012. To date, he does not have any distinguished achievements in
major competitions like the World Championships.
“How many Hong Kong athletes are able to participate in international competitions?” he says. “The eligibility benchmarks of the programme are over-ambitious.”
He stresses that most medallists of major competitions like the East Asian Games do not require immediate help when they retire, as the competitions give them prize money. With the prize money, they can at least manage to lead their lives. He believes those who need the most help are the athletes who cannot get a medal in the competitions and are not good at study. They cannot go back to school once they retire.
Tam Kwok-kuen, a korfball player, agrees. Tam says he does not expect to get any help from the government after he retires because korfball is not a popular sport in Hong Kong. He says the eligibility benchmarks of the programme imply that the Hong Kong government does not support sports development wholeheartedly.
“The Hong Kong government does not support sports, but medals!” he says. “When you are a medallist, you will get help from the government. The programme gives the illusion that everyone can get help.”
Sam Wong Tak-sum, the manager of HKACEP and a former Hong Kong Olympic windsurfer, explains why the benchmarks are set in this way.
He says that although the government gave the programme HK$8.5 million in 2008, those running it do not know if or when the government will give them further funds. So, with limited resources and a desire to help as many retired athletes as possible, the eligibility benchmarks are linked to the number of years an applicant has spent in the squad and their achievements.
Wong says that although some athletes cannot benefit from the programme, they will still have learnt a lot through practising their sport competitively – like discipline and punctuality. Wong believes these qualities help former athletes to get on in society after their retirement.
However, he admits that HKACEP has room for improvement in helping those athletes who may not qualify for the programme.