Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Hong Kong Premier League – A New Start 香港超級聯賽 — 進入新篇章


Hong Kong Premier League – A New Start

It’s public knowledge now that nine teams have applied for and been granted a Licence for the new Hong Kong Premier League which will kick-off in September. The establishment of the new Hong Kong Premier League was one of the key recommendations of Project Phoenix and its creation marks an important milestone in the rejuvenation of football in Hong Kong. The Premier League is one of the last recommendations to fall into place. When I started the job in September 2012 it was obvious to me that the Premier League could not be implemented in time for the 2013/14 season. The 2014/15 season was a more realistic target but even that has been a challenging timescale. I would like to thank my colleagues at the HKFA who have put a huge amount of work into making the new league a reality.

I would also like to thank the Clubs that have embraced the challenge and completed the Licence application. As you would expect, some of the Clubs have been more enthusiastic than others. The more positive (and I would like to think enlightened clubs) have seen the new league as an opportunity to review their governance, management and operation and to put measures in place to improve things both on and off the pitch. I hope the less enthusiastic clubs will eventually see the benefits of the new league once it is up and running.

In granting Hong Kong Premier League Licences for 2014/15, the HKFA has been quite ‘generous’ in its evaluation. Some of the bids were borderline passes but we have taken the view that for this first year only we can use pragmatic discretion and grant the Licence, conditional upon further information being provided within a reasonable timescale. For example we need more information from a number of the clubs on sources of funding and we need to be satisfied that players do not have ‘two contracts’. A number of the criteria for the inaugural Hong Kong Premier League Licence have been ‘watered down’ from the AFC CL Club Licence to give the Clubs time to reach the desired standard. This means that clubs have been asked to demonstrate that they are ‘working towards’ certain standards rather than them being ‘mandatory’. Over time we intend to harmonise the two Licences and so we can’t afford to be so lenient next year. This means that there is no room for complacency on the part of the clubs. It will be significantly harder to get a Licence next season. We will of course work with the clubs to address their weaknesses and to help those that are ambitious to improve further.

Hong Kong Premier League – What Will Be Different?

The new league is fundamental to our strategy because a vibrant professional tier attracts people to play football at the grassroots and provides players for the representative teams. As a result, the sport benefits from the top to the bottom. A poor standard of professional football drags everything down as has been evident for the last decade or so.

Given our existing starting point and the resources we have at our disposal it is unrealistic to expect things to change massively from one season to the next. When all is said and done, it is largely the same clubs playing at the same facilities. The new Premier League is about ‘evolution’ not ‘revolution’. When the J League was set up in Japan it was ‘revolutionary’ because it had an instant injection of public and private sector funding but here in Hong Kong we simply don’t have the same level of Government and Commercial support. The process of change in Hong Kong will be more incremental and season 1 will be start of a journey, not the final destination. To some extent clubs and other stakeholders including the media and fans will need to be patient and ‘buy-into’ the longer term vision.  

The Licence system itself is an important step forward and although the changes that this will bring about may not be immediately visible, it will have a profound impact in the longer term. In setting up the system the HKFA is following the best practice as determined by the AFC and FIFA and it should allow our best teams to gain automatic entry into Asia’s top club competitions. Equally importantly it will help to ‘clean up’ the sport by requiring clubs to be more transparent about their ownership, governance, management and finances. It should also improve player welfare and therefore encourage more young people to want to play professional football.

I recognize that people will want to see something more tangible and we are doing our best to make some noticeable differences this season including:

·         A new Corporate Identity, image, logo etc

·         More marketing and promotion

·         Enhanced website coverage

·         Improved Fantasy game

·         Integrity initiatives

o   Monitoring of all matches

o   Compulsory education for players and coaches

o   Referees briefing

·         Pitch Improvement Programme in conjunction with LCSD and FIFA

·         Further investment in referee training, assessment and communication

·         Random drug testing programme

·         First steps to establish a player association

·         New format for the reserve league to focus on young players

·         Additional Cup competitions (Community Cup and League Cup)

Furthermore, we have persuaded the AFC to make us part of their ‘Kick Off’ programme which will mean experts from other countries coming to advise clubs on how to market themselves better and to generate more commercial revenue. We hope the clubs embrace this initiative because we need to work together to make sure the new league is better than its predecessor. And of course it is the club’s responsibility to improve the quality of play on the pitch (as well as the conduct) because that is the main change that people want to see. Significantly better standards of football take time to develop and the new league should be instrumental in doing that by producing a pipeline of young players and creating the revenue to bring in better foreign players. Our more ambitious clubs are investing in players and player development which is great to see. They are the ones that will ultimately benefit.

In time we would like to see the Premier League independent from the HKFA and that would bring further change. In reality this is a few seasons away because it is not a sustainable proposition now. Hopefully the new League will be the catalyst for this independence as more revenue is generated by clubs through ticket sales, commercial sponsorship and eventually broadcasting rights.  

The 2014/15 Premier League is a step in the right direction but everyone knows there is still a long way to go. Hopefully when we launch the new league towards the end of August we will have good news about sponsorship. If this is confirmed we will be able to enhance things further by, for example, increasing the prize money. So I am confident that the Premier League will be a success but everyone must remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Mark Sutcliffe July 2014
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香港超級聯賽 進入新篇章
眾所周知,香港超級聯賽(「港超聯」)將於今年九月正式開鑼,而九支球隊經已申請及獲得頒發香港超級聯賽牌照。港超聯的成立是「鳳凰計劃」重要的建議方案之一,其創立的使命是振興香港足球事業的一個重要里程。港超聯是其中一項最後完成的建議方案,當我在二○一二年九月正式履任時,我便意識到港超聯未必能夠及時趕及在二○一三/一四年度球季展開,因此二○一四/一五年度球季會是一個較為可行的目標,惟我們必須與時間競賽。本人非常感謝足總同事為港超聯而付出額外的汗水,將夢想變成現實。
本人同時感謝球會勇於接受挑戰,完成了申請牌照程序。誠然,部分球會對港超聯是滿腔熱誠的,他們(我認為是有遠見的球會)對新聯賽持正面態度,將它視之為一個檢討球會的管治、管理及行政各方面的機會,進一步改善其在賽場內外的表現。本人冀望一些對新聯賽反應較為冷淡的球會,最終能夠在新聯賽步入正軌時見到成效。
在頒發二○一四/一五年度球季香港超級聯賽的牌照上,香港足球總會在評審方面較為「寬鬆」,縱使部分申請僅僅合格,但我們以首年申請作考慮,透過實際問題的判斷來頒發牌照,惟要求申請者在合理的時間表內呈交進一步的補充資料作為條件。舉例說,我們要求多間球會在其財政來源上呈交更多資料、球員沒有同時擁有「兩份合約」等。與亞洲足協的球會牌照準則相比,香港超級聯賽的不同準則經已明顯調低了門檻,讓球會有充裕時間預備達標,這亦讓多家球會證明他們正「努力接近」相應標準而非純粹「強制」完成任務。隨著歲月流逝,我們傾力將兩個牌照準則加以協調,即下個球季未必再有寬大處理的情況出現,部分球會不能安於現狀,因獲頒發牌照的難度將於下個球季大幅增加。誠然,我們將會針對各球會的弱項予以援手,務求幫助他們加強改善的力度。
香港超級聯賽有何分別?
新聯賽是我們計劃中的重要基石,因為一個專業的聯賽能夠吸引更多人加入草根足球行列,為香港代表隊注入新血。因此,運動本身的利益將會從上至下而來。一個低水平的專業足球聯賽將會把一切事情拖垮,過去十年間的實況已是最佳佐證。
以我們目前所獲得的起步時間和資源而言,大家不要過分期望從去季過度至新球季中會帶來翻天覆地的轉變。不管怎樣說,大部分球會正在使用去屆相同的設施,新聯賽講求的是「蛻變」而非「改革」。當日本職業聯賽最近成立時所作出的「重大改革」,全因獲得政府和私營方面即時注資贊助,相反香港並未獲得來自政府和商業贊助的同等待遇。香港足球的蛻變歷程將會隨著時間遞增,而首季只是漫長旅途的開始,而非一個旅程的終結。在某程度上,眾球會、球圈人士、傳媒以至球迷必須耐心等候,並共同支持這個宏遠的願景。
球會牌照制度本身向前邁進了一大步,儘管某些改變並不能即時預見,但長遠而言將會帶來深刻的影響。在擬訂牌照制度時,香港足球總會遵循了國際足協和亞洲足協的最佳方案,容許我們表現出色的球會能夠自動獲得現時亞洲球會競逐最高水平賽事的參賽資格,同樣地,新制度亦有助肅清賽場內外的不法行為,牌照要求各球會必須在其擁有權、管治、行政和財政上提供更高的透明度,亦必須改善球員福利,從而鼓勵更多年青人加入足球事業中。
本人明白大家想見到一些較為具體的變化,我們嘗試在來屆球季中作出以下明顯的轉變,包括:
·         一個全新的聯賽形象、商標
·         更多的市場推廣工作
·         網頁內容更加豐富
·         修改網上聯賽經理人遊戲
·         誠信措施:
o   監察所有賽事
o   球員和教練必須參加教育講座
o   裁判員簡報會
·         與國際足協和康樂及文化事務署聯手推行球場草地改善計劃
·         進一步增加資源在裁判員的培訓、考核及溝通工作
·         隨機執行禁藥測試制度
·         開始籌備球員工會
·         引入預備組賽事的新賽制,專注於年青球員上
·         增加更多賽事類型 (社區盾和聯賽盃,暫名)
此外,我們成功說服亞洲足協,讓我們成為他們旗下「Kick Off」計劃的一部分,讓來自其他國家的專家們透過計劃來港,指導本地球會如何在市場推廣方面做得更好以及增加更多的商業利益。我們期望球會能夠從善如流,因為大家必須同舟共濟,將新聯賽辦得更勝往昔。球會亦有責任去不斷改善比賽水平(包含行為操守),這是公眾所引頸以待的重大轉變。提升更高的足水平必須要用時間來沉澱,新聯賽的啟動將會造就更多年青球員加入,同時球會運用收益來引入更多高質素的外援,我們樂於看見不少具雄心壯志的球會正在斥資在收購球員及培訓工作上,全因他們的投資最終將會獲得豐厚的回報。
經過一段時間後,我們關注香港超級聯賽能否從香港足球總會中自行獨立而能夠帶來更多改變。事實上,這將會在數個球季後才會發生,因為目前不是一個持續性的方案。然而,我們期望新聯賽將會因其獨立運作而在各方面產生催化作用,包括球會透過門票收益而增加收入、商業贊助以至電視轉播權利。
二○一四/一五年度香港超級聯賽現朝著正確的方向前進,但大家都認同前方仍有漫漫長路。本人由衷盼望在八月下旬香港超級聯賽的新聞發布會上,帶來有關聯賽贊助的喜訊。倘若贊助商正式落實,我們希望能夠在各方面進一步增強,例如提高比賽獎金等。本人深信香港超級聯賽將會獲得空前成功,但大家必須謹記一點,羅馬不是一天建成的。
薜基輔
二○一四年七月
 
 

11 comments:

  1. I don't think Community Cup and League Cup should be counted as something new because we already had them before. And now the word "hopefully" is being used about acquiring sponsorship so it is quite disappointing. Anyway, there're a few things I would like to suggest:

    1) In Cup final, present the trophy on the pitch rather than the stand. It allows more space for the sponsor's logo at that golden moment.

    2) Linking the league and the cup competitions. Like the NBA, the team with higher ranking in the league can have more advantages in the playoff. Draw and seeding based on last season are no more needed. Let's say we finish the first found of the league, then go straight to the Senior Shield. With

    #1 vs # 8/9,
    # 2 vs # 7,
    # 3 vs # 6,
    # 4 vs # 5.

    It encourages teams to fight for higher rank.

    3) Intensive Cup schedule. There will be a "Senior Shield month" or something. Matches will be played consecutively within about 3 weeks. So the sponsor can enjoy all the attention within that period of time.

    4) Player's registration deadline in the Cup competition. Last season in the Senior Shield Final, we saw South China fielded 2 players they had signed just after the semi-final, Andrew Barisic and Sasa Kajkut. I don't think it was fair to their opponent Sun Pegasus and I don't think we can find any cup competition in the world allowing team to do that. Because technically team can sign a few players only for the final and then release them after that. So I would suggest teams are required to submit their rosters for the cup before it get started. And nothing can be changed after the that.

    5) Support our oversea player. Last season, we saw Lam Hok Hei playing in the Indonesian League without enough supports. He had difficulties dealing with the language, food, etc. If HKFA had helped him with that, like sending a translator for him, he could have played and adapted better. Lam was our "trail blazer" but sadly he received almost nothing from us.

    More ideas will be followed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Sai Lam Wong,
      Thank you for your comments and ideas.
      The Community Cup is a new competition and trophy sponsored by the Jockey Club, it is their way of endorsing the Premier League and will give an incentive to teams to win the league or play-offs this season because they will then get to play for some serious prize money in next season's curtain raiser. The League Cup has been played before I appreciate that but there is a new format this season where the winner gets to play in the play offs and therefore potentially a place in the AFC competition.
      I used the word 'hopefully' because at the time of writing we had not signed the sponsorship deal. I am pleased to say that the contract has now been signed and that we will DEFINITELY have a sponsor for the Premier League. Details will be announced at a press conference in the next few weeks. This will enable us to make some meaningful changes so it is good news.
      I will talk to our Competitions Department about the other issues yo raise but I have some observations.
      Seeding is not a bad idea but with only 9 teams in the league, there are issues to consider. Sometimes the cup commences before the first round has been completed because of postponements etc.
      The problem with an intensive cup competition is that the teams knocked out in the first round then have no matches for a while.
      I may be wrong and I will need to check it but I think South China signed the players during the January transfer window which is a FIFA initiative. The minimum contract they can be on is until the end of the season so it should not be possible for players to be signed for a few games.
      We do want to encourage our players to gain experience overseas but given the limited resources we have it would be difficult for us to invest in individual cases.
      As ever your comments are food for thought and appreciated.
      Regards
      Mark

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    2. Great to hear the sponsorship is confirmed and good to hear that there will be more prize money on the community cup comparing to the one in 2009. As for the League Cup I've heard that even the local reporters are confused about the 3 groups format and the "6 teams fight for the remaining semi-final spot" format. I hope more detail will be announced in the future. Actually I would suggest the team who will play in the ACL-qualifier (Kitchee this time) or AFC Cup see a bye in the early stage of one of the cup competitions, because one thing that a cup competition can provide is more matches to play, but with the ACL-qualifier and minimum 6 AFC/ACL group matches Kitchee and South China would have enough matches already. I think the format of the cup competitions can be opened for debate.

      # About an intensive cup competition:

      Given that we only have 9 teams in the league and most of the teams have less than 25 games to play in a season, they will always have no matches to play for a while like any season before. It's inevitable. But if the 4 knock-out teams in the quarter-final have no matches to play "together" for a while, at least it's more fair. Last season Yuen Long had no matches to play for six weeks from Dec to Jan and they were the only team that suffered. So if "blank" is inevitable, I would suggest to turn it into opportunity to maximize the marketing effect for the cup sponsors.

      # About the Andrew Barisic and Sasa Kajkut case:

      Yes, please check their registration date of last season. According to Steven Lo's blog they were registered after the semi-final which was played on the Christmas day. As for the minimum length of a contract, as far as I know local clubs can terminate a contract whenever they want. Some clubs would just "fire" a player before the end of the contract and only compensate the player with one month salary.

      # About the Lam Hok Hei case:

      Lam Hok Hei was exploring a new market for Hong Kong players, to me I don't think it should be considered as an individual case, as it could be crucial to Hong Kong football as a whole, like Nakata opened the door of Seria A to other Japanese players before. Comparing to Italy, the living in Indonesia is much more difficult. Nakata had everything covered by his team while Lam got nothing. I was not asking the HKFA to send an assistant there to stay with him, but at least the HKFA should have worked with Rangers to monitor the situation of Lam, especially given that Rangers also found it hard to help him. "Does Lam need a translator?" "Does Lam need a lawyer to review his contract?" Lam almost became an illegal worker there at the end of his spell in Indonesia and he is our precious talent! So next time if we got another Lam Hok Hei making his way to some tough place, like Vietnam, I would suggest the HKFA to take it as your case as well. Just to ask whether he needs some help, it won't cost much I think.

      Delete
    3. Dear David,
      The two South China players were signed in the transfer window. The only way that players can be signed outside of this window is if they are 'unemployed' i.e. free agents.
      Clubs certainly cannot unilaterally terminate a players contract whenever they want. Under the FIFA regulations the minimum they can sign them for is the 'duration of the season'. Clubs that breach this regulation will be subject to sanction. The only exception is if the player is in breach of their contract e.g. has committed some very serious disciplinary action or if the contract is severed by mutual consent.
      We will consider the other issues you raise.
      Regards
      Mark

      Delete
    4. Dear Mark,

      Actually I am Gary, not David. Haha. And my point about the South China issue was that if a player is registered after a cup tournament had started, that player should not be eligible to play in the tournament. But it happened in last season's Senior Shield final.

      And perhaps under the FIFA regulations a club cannot just terminate a contract whenever they want. But it did actually happen here, at least it happened before. So I hope the setup of player association can help stopping this kind of acts.

      Also may I know will there be reporter of HKFA to cover the AFC U-16 tournament in Bangkok, as I heard local media will be more focus on the Asian Game.

      Regards,
      Gary

      Delete
    5. Gary, really sorry I got your name wrong!
      There are rules regarding whether or not a player can play in a cup competition when they transfer. For example if they have played for another club in that competition they are not allowed to play. I think it would be a bit harsh on a club who legitimately transfers a player in the transfer window and they are not cup-tied for them not to be allowed to use that player.
      I hope the termination of players contracts mid season without justification i.e. mutual consent is now a thing of the past. A players association might help but actually it will the HKFA itself that monitors the situation and enforces the FIFA regulations. We did this when we suspended Happy Valley and Tuen Mun by reminding them of their obligations. The HKFA is not run by the clubs any more. It is run by a Secretariat that reports to a Board of Directors the majority of whom are independent of the Clubs. That is one of the benefits of Project Phoenix that people forget.
      We will ensure that there are regular media reports of the U16 tournament. It is an historic achievement to qualify and we will let people know how we get on. Our team has prepared well with a tournament in Spain, another competition in Beijing and they will soon to be going to a training camp in England with Tottenham Hotspurs (thanks to AIA for their generous support). We are investing in our young players, our future and wish them well for the AFC tournament. It will be tough against Australia, Japan and China but whatever the result, it will be a great learning experience. For me it is another example of the progress we are making.
      Regards Mark

      Delete
    6. Perhaps we can just set the Senior Shield final date before the winter transfer window to avoid all the problem? In last season case, I still think it's better to be a bit harsh on South China than to be unfair to Sun Pegasus. As we're talking about a cup final match.

      Also may I have your email? There are some more ideas about improving local football that I need to attach with some pictures. Thank you.

      Regards

      Gary

      Delete
    7. Dear Gary,
      My email address is mark.sutcliffe@hkfa.com
      Regards Mark

      Delete
  2. Re: #5: Unfortunately the support of players abroad rest solely on the club's shoulders. It's unheard of that an FA would intervene or assist in the day-to-day transition of a player at a foreign club. Also, even if there were funds to invest in this task, it is not scaleable and determining qualification for assistance would be difficult.

    Completely agree with your point about the hiring of 'mercenaries' just for tournaments. Leagues around the world use multiple deadlines for squad lists depending on the type of competition.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear David,
      I agree with your point about the HKFA supporting players moving abroad, it is up to the foreign club to ensure that their player 'acclimatises' to the new surroundings. We are looking at other initiatives to give our players opportunities to play abroad such as scholarships and bursaries etc
      Regarding your comment about 'mercenaries' I will discuss this with our registration and competitions teams but as I stated in a previous comment we abide by the FIFA regulations on the status and transfer of players and we expect our clubs to do likewise.
      Regards
      Mark

      Delete
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