Project Phoenix Progress Report
There has been some debate recently on various media about the progress of Project Phoenix and whether or not it is being successful in bringing about the transformation of football in Hong Kong. Some of this debate has been objective and informed, some has been mere opinion and speculation and some has been plain wrong. I am perhaps uniquely qualified to comment on Project Phoenix because I led the consultant team that wrote the report and now I am responsible for its implementation. I have lived and breathed Project Phoenix for the last few years and my honest appraisal of it is set out below.
Was Project Phoenix the right Strategy for Football in Hong Kong and is it still relevant?
Having been ‘inside’ the organization for a while now and having seen football in Hong Kong in some detail, I am convinced that if I was to write the Project Phoenix report again with the benefit of hindsight, it would contain exactly the same narrative and recommendations. I hope I am not being immodest when I say that I think it is an excellent blueprint for change. It identifies all of the problem areas and sets out the actions required to overcome them.
There are only a few things I would change if I could re-write the document. On reflection, some of the targets were a bit optimistic. It is not that they are unattainable; it is just that it might take longer to achieve them. Most people would agree that nothing happens quickly in Hong Kong and that is especially true in a sport like football that is fragmented and where there are so many vested interests. A few people are using the fact that some targets have been missed to invalidate the entire strategy. That is a ridiculous and naïve view. In some cases these are the very same people that are deliberately slowing down the process of change because it is their interest to do so (or so they think).
The other thing I would amend in hindsight is the budget. Again the report was too optimistic about how quickly commercial interest would be generated. Additional revenue is proving elusive and that remains one of the key challenges.
In my opinion, the key issues and strategic recommendations of Project Phoenix remain valid, relevant and important.
What Progress has be made?
Firstly, we must acknowledge that Project Phoenix got off to a stuttering start for a number of reasons including the early departure of the first CEO and Head Coach. That is history now and all we can do is try and make up the ground that was lost in the early days. That won’t be easy considering the fact that it is only a three-year funding programme. Nevertheless, the slow start is a material fact that should be taken into account when reviewing progress. It’s like going one nil down in the first 15 minutes of a match – it’s a blow but not a fatal one.
Project Phoenix was sub-titled ‘Develop- Deliver’ because it was recognized that before it could transform football by ‘delivering’ new activities and programmes, the HKFA had to transform and ‘develop’ itself. Therefore many of the 33 recommendations were focused on the transformation of the HKFA in terms of governance, management and operation. By their very nature these changes are ‘internal’ to the organisation and not immediately visible to the general public.
Organisational change is time-consuming and resource intensive however, and the HKFA has been working very hard on developing itself into a well-run Governing Body of Sport. I would like to share with you some of the things we have been doing which are ‘behind the scenes’.
- New Constitution and Board: A new set of constitutional documents were agreed at the outset and more independent Directors are now in place.
- Strong Executive (creation and filling of 24 new positions): Project Phoenix identified that the HKFA was under-staffed particularly in technical and operational positions. The organisation has recruited, inducted and now manages 24 new positions funded through Project Phoenix including some critical management positions such as Financial Controller, HR Manager, Head of Corporate Governance, Head of Marketing and Communications. All of these positions are vital in an organization of the scale and complexity of the HKFA.
- Holistic Corporate Governance Review completed: In any organisation there are literally hundreds of policies, procedures, working practices etc covering financial management, HR, marketing, procurement and so on. We have reviewed all of these and streamlined them to create a more efficient workplace. This has been a big but necessary undertaking. Continuous improvement is fundamental in any organisation.
- Review of Financial Management Systems underway: The HKFA invited FIFA in to carry out a review of management arrangements under its ‘Performance’ programme. We have now obtained funding from them to install an integrated financial management system. This work is underway.
- Enhancement of HR / admin / IT policies & procedures: The new HR Manager has done an excellent job in reviewing and amending our human resource capability including harmonizing remuneration, salary benchmarking, staff handbook etc.
- Cultural Change Programme: In the last two years the HKFA has gone through significant change and growth. As anyone involved in business will testify this is a challenging time. At the same time the ‘day job’ of planning and administering football in Hong Kong must go on. For us this has been made more difficult in practical terms because our office is being refurbished to accommodate the new staff (again funded by FIFA).
I am proud of the staff of the HKFA both pre and post Project Phoenix. They are passionate about football and diligent in their work. All of the above changes have strengthened the organisation and put the HKFA on a firm footing when it comes to delivering the other more visible and externally focused recommendations of Project Phoenix.
We have made significant progress in these (what I call ‘on the pitch’) areas too including:
- More Professional Representative Team (improved FIFA ranking): Most people recognise that Coach KIM, his coaches and players have improved significantly and punched above their weight in the Asian Cup qualifiers. Our FIFA ranking is 144 (November 2013) up from 172.
- Development of HKFA Youth Academy: Our youth teams have made good progress too culminating in the historic qualification for the AFC finals of the U16 team.
- Fully staffed Technical Department: We have appointed a Technical Director and Managers for Women’s Football, Refereeing, Coach Education, Futsal, Grassroots Football. Some people have been critical of us for spending money on people but that is what the money was earmarked for and without these resources there would be no one here to manage the programmes.
- Revised Football Development Plan: The team of experts has reviewed current football development activities and programmes and has prepared a plan to enhance, expand and improve the work we do in football development. This plan has been endorsed by the HKFA Technical Committee and is being ‘rolled out’ as we speak.
- National Curriculum: The Technical Department has written a ‘syllabus’ for how football should be taught from the grassroots up to the high performance level. This includes a consistent style and system of play.
- Preparation of Five-year Strategy: A five-year plan was one of the recommendations of Project Phoenix. This has been prepared and endorsed by the HKFA Board and the Government’s Football Task Force.
- Premier League criteria agreed: The new Premier League will start in 2014. The criteria have been written and shared with the Clubs. They are based on AFC standards.
- Club Development: – Two of our Clubs have been assessed by the AFC and granted AFC Champions League Licences. South China AA will be participating in the 2014 AFC Champions League; the first time Hong Kong has been represented at this level.
- Improvements in Youth Development:
• 8,000 participants in summer youth programme in 2011, now 10,000+
- Integration of Women’s Football:
• Regional competitions and Training squads for U13/U15 and U18
- Redesigned Coach Education Programme and Syllabus:
• 23% increase in registered coaches
- Referee Development: (162 in 2011, now 221)
- Futsal: – Primary Schools initiative and Intra-district competition
All of the examples above illustrate that Project Phoenix is having an impact on the pitch as well as off it. We have laid the foundations for future development.
So with just under a year to go of the three-year funded Project Phoenix, 15 of the 33 recommendations have been implemented in full. All of the others are either partially completed or on-going. There have been some notable successes both on and off the pitch. We cannot be accused of inactivity but I would accept that we could do better at publicising the changes we have made and the successes we have had.
Off the pitch, the HKFA is unrecognizable now as an organization from what it was two years ago. We have put the people and management systems in place to deliver change. We have an organization that is ‘fit for purpose’ and we have the strategic plan in place to radically improve football in Hong Kong. The organisational development and the strategic planning have taken time and naturally most of this has been internal and therefore gone largely unnoticed by the public. I would contend that the ‘develop’ phase of Project Phoenix has been completed successfully.
In terms of ‘delivery’ ‘on the pitch’ we have made significant progress too. The Representative Teams have shown real signs of improvement reflected by an improved FIFA ranking despite having insufficient resources. Our U16 team has qualified for the AFC finals for the first time ever. We have secured a Club place in the AFC Champions League for the first time ever. We have integrated Women’s football and started a new league. We have more coaches trained, more referee development and established Futsal in the schools. We have a new grassroots programme planned and more young people are now playing football through the expansion of the District training programme. These are all positive indicators that show that progress is being made. Each on their own is a small achievement but collectively it is evidence of a fundamental shift in the fortunes of football in Hong Kong.
We are not satisfied with the speed of change however and we know that there is much more that needs to be done. Some of the other fundamental Project Phoenix recommendations remain ‘work in progress’ but over the next few months many of these will come to fruition too like the Hong Kong Premier League that will ‘kick off’ in 2014.
The development of the much needed Tseung Kwan O Football Training Centre is slower than we hoped but is now picking up pace again. The HKFA is working in conjunction with the HKJC and Government on plans for the centre and we hope to make some positive announcements early in 2014*(see footnote).
Looking ahead beyond the current three year funding cycle, we will need more resources to implement all of the strategic plan recommendations but we are working on that too. If we don’t get as much as we would like, we will have to make difficult choices and prioritise our work. Over the next few months we must continue to move forward and we will be working with our partners to deliver the other changes identified in Project Phoenix. The three year funding finishes at the end of October 2014. We must demonstrate that the project has been worthwhile to persuade the Government and other partners including the commercial sector to invest in football long term. We hope all of the football stakeholders in Hong Kong will join forces to demonstrate the positive progress that is being made and to support the call for the future long term funding of football in Hong Kong. We have reached a critical point in time.
I would like to correct an error that was transmitted in a recent RTHK programme on Project Phoenix. It was incorrectly stated that the HKFA had only requested HK$25m of the total HK$60m of the Government’s Project Phoenix funding. In actual fact, HK$58m (97%) has been requested, committed and agreed. As you would expect at this stage of the project not all of it has been claimed because the expenditure has yet to be incurred. It is a cash flow issue. Indeed we also have an agreement in principle with the Government to spend the unallocated HK$2m on Project Phoenix related items. I don’t know how the programme got their facts so wrong but we will use all of the funding available, why wouldn’t we?
For me, there is no doubt that Project Phoenix remains the right plan for the HKFA and for football. We are making good progress on its implementation and there have been some real results. Given the slow start and given how difficult it is to implement change, I am generally satisfied with progress, but certainly not complacent. I also know that there is a lot of work still to be done. I am not worried about the detractors, there will always be those that resist change; that is human nature. Effective leadership is about having a clear vision and the resilience to see things through. I remain committed to improving football in Hong Kong for the benefit of the sport and the countless thousands of people who understand why things MUST change.
Mark Sutcliffe, CEO, December 2013
*Footnote: The proposed Football Training Centre at Tseung Kwan O is to be built on a former landfill site. As such it is not suitable for housing development.
- 完成審查全盤的公司管治政策： 在任何一間機構中，都會存在數以百計的政策、程序、工作守則等，全面涵蓋財務管理部、人力資源部、市場部、採購部等。足總對所有相關政策作出檢討及加以簡化，從而建立一個具效率的工作環境。雖然工程浩大，但必須落實執行，持續改變是任何一間機構的基本事情。
- 強化人力資源 / 行政 / 資訊科技政策及程序：新委任的人力資源經理在工作崗位作出重大貢獻，全面檢討及修訂人力資源相關的政策，包括協調報酬制度、薪酬基準、員工手冊等。
- 技術部門 全部人才到位：我們經已委任技術總監及女子足球經理、裁判經理、教練培訓經理、五人足球經理、草根足球經理等。某些批評聲音認為我們大灑金錢在人事招聘上，但當初預算的支出正正是用於這方面。假如這些資源欠奉，相信沒有人願意管理這些不同範疇的項目。
- 球會發展: 本地兩間甲組球會已經獲得亞洲足協評審並成功取得亞洲足協亞洲盃的牌照。南華體育會將參加二○一四年的亞冠盃賽事，這是香港首次成功派出代表參加這項亞洲頂級球會賽事。
- 裁判培訓：(2011年162， 現階段221)