The Wong Wai Case
The time has come to defend both the HKFA and myself because there is so much confusion concerning the Wong Wai case.
It is important for people to understand who is responsible for what happens when a player is injured playing for a Hong Kong representative team, so I will clarify the situation once and for all.If a Football Association calls up a professional player to represent his country during one of the FIFA International Match Days then it is mandatory for the club to release the player. It is not mandatory for a club to release a player for training or friendly matches outside those days, but of course a club can choose to do so, on a voluntary basis.
Whenever a player is released by a club to the association, irrespective of whether it is mandatory or voluntary, the club is responsible for insuring the player against injury. It is not the responsibility of the football association.The HKFA informed all of the clubs of this requirement at a meeting in October and gave them a copy of the relevant FIFA regulation.
It is also a mandatory requirement of the AFC CL and Hong Kong Premier League Club Licences that the club insures its players against injury.
The match in question was a friendly match that took place outside a FIFA match day and so the club released the player voluntarily. The HKFA never puts pressure on clubs to release players, it is the club’s choice. If a player gets injured the club is responsible for either claiming on its insurance policy (if it has one) or paying the medical expenses (if it does not). We have asked the club to provide us with a copy of its medical insurance certificate but as yet we haven’t received it. I honestly don’t know whether they are insured or not, time will tell. If they are not, it would explain why they are so keen to push the costs onto us.
Again for the avoidance of doubt the HKFA is in no way obliged to pay for any treatment. I can understand why people may find it strange that the Football Association is not responsible for insuring a player against injury or for paying for medical expenses, but that is the situation under the FIFA regulations and as a Member Association we have to abide by their rulings. The club cannot say that they were unaware of the situation for two reasons. Firstly we explicitly pointed out their responsibilities as recently as October and secondly they too have to abide by the FIFA regulations and it is incumbent on them to be aware of their obligations.
The situation regarding salary compensation is slightly different. If a professional player (male or female) is injured playing for a representative team in an “A” class international i.e. senior teams from both associations and the match takes place on a FIFA match day, then FIFA will provide financial assistance under the FIFA Club Protection Programme. This match was not covered by these provisions but again the club knew that because a copy of the FIFA Circular was given to all clubs in October.
Professional Football Clubs in Hong Kong are required by law to take out Employee Compensation Insurance to cover for when a player is injured and cannot work.
So for the case of Wong Wai, he was released by the club on a voluntary basis and the club fully understood (or at least should have) that if he got injured the HKFA was not obliged to pay for any medical expenses or to compensate the club.So why did we offer to pay for Wong Wai’s medical expenses?
I took an ‘executive decision’ that the HKFA would pay for Wong Wai’s treatment for a number of reasons. Firstly a number of the HKFA coaches and our physiotherapist were involved in the decision to transfer Wong Wai from a public to a private hospital. This decision was taken in the interest of the patient. We wanted him to receive the best treatment which was something that may not have been covered by the club’s insurance. Having been party to this decision I felt that there was some moral obligation on us to pay at least some of the medical expenses. Secondly we did not want either Wong Wai or his family to worry about who was going to pay the bill. It was an emotional time for them and under the circumstances it seemed to me to be a secondary consideration. It is somewhat ironic that I may get into trouble with the Board for taking this decision and incurring expenditure that was not our responsibility. I will cross that bridge when I come to it.
Bearing in mind all of the above I think that the HKFA is justified in feeling disappointed with the media and public reaction. We were under no obligation to pay and yet we decided that that was the right thing to do. To be criticized for going over and above what we obliged to do and for helping out the player and the club seems a little harsh. I would have thought that the club should have shown some gratitude towards the HKFA, rather than stirring up controversy and making it out that we are the bad guys. When I met with them I asked for our discussions to be kept between the HKFA and the club. I did this not to keep matters ‘secret’ (which is what I have been accused of subsequently) but because I wanted to avoid the unnecessary media feeding frenzy. As a matter of principal I always prefer to sort things out amicably and confidentially. Unfortunately, the club decided that it could use the media and public to put further pressure on the HKFA and even went as far as to wrongly claim that I wanted to cap our liability in the Wong Wai case. This is a bit perverse considering we were not actually obliged to pay anything. It is also potentially counter-productive because we may decide not to be so generous in the future. It could be the other clubs and players that suffer as a result of the clubs actions. We are currently reviewing our position in relation to these matters and we will inform the clubs in due course as to what our policy will be in future cases.
I have also come in for some abusive personal criticism. I understand that this goes with the territory and that social media provides an ideal outlet for frustrations. I don’t mind criticism when it is justified but in this case I have been accused of visiting Wong Wai in hospital simply for PR reasons. People are entitled to interpret my actions as they wish. However I know my own personal motivations better than anyone. I simply wanted to personally reassure Wong Wai that the media comments were untrue and that the HKFA would honour its original commitment to pay his medical costs. I could not visit him any sooner because I was in Australia attending the AFC Conference on behalf of the association.
Wong Wai himself has been critical of my visit. This is disappointing in view of how much we have helped him and will continue to do so. I believe he is actually a decent person and I suspect that someone encouraged him to make that particular statement, so I am happy to give him the benefit of doubt on this occasion.
This has been a very unfortunate situation, not least for Wong Wai himself. With the benefit of hindsight I am sure there are things we could all have handled better. There are important lessons everyone and for me the most important one is to clearly define our policy in relation to the FIFA regulations and any additional arrangements we choose to have with the clubs. We have already started this process.
I will finish as I started in wishing Wong Wai well. I genuinely look forward to seeing him play once more for his club and for Hong Kong.
Mark Sutcliffe 15th January 2015