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
香港超級聯賽 進入新篇章
·         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。

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Personal Reflections of the Tournament, So Far 到目前為止.我眼中的世界盃

Personal Reflections of the Tournament, So Far
I’m sure you will all agree that so far Brazil 2014 has been a fascinating tournament both on and off the pitch. Indeed I would contend that it has been a microcosm of the sport itself with the sublime skills of practitioners of the beautiful game contrasting spectacularly with the darker more malevolent aspects of football.

Negative ‘hype’ before the event – true or false?

As has become customary with major sports events, in the run up to the tournament there was huge negative publicity. In the case of Brazil 2014 the media focused on; the stadia, working conditions of builders, the infrastructure (or lack of it) and general public dissatisfaction with the costs as manifested in riots and unrest. Having been to Brazil for the first two weeks of the competition, in my opinion some of the criticism was indeed justified. It is clear that some of the venues were incomplete. Brazil and its main cities are difficult places to get around and levels of service leave a lot to be desired. Although I personally saw no rioters or public discontent, I was struck by a general apathy and lack of enthusiasm among the local people. When we arrived in Sao Paulo a few days before the event, it was as if the World Cup was not even taking place. I would describe the atmosphere as ‘sombre’ rather than ‘samba’. Admittedly this changed a little once the tournament got underway and there was certainly more of a carnival feeling in Rio than in Sao Paulo. I see England as the historical home of football and Brazil as the ‘spiritual’ home of football. I can tell you that at least initially, it didn’t feel like football was ‘coming home’.

The Business of Football

The 64th FIFA Congress was an eye-opener and I got to see first-hand how the global ‘politics’ of football works – quite fascinating for me but probably boring for most people so I won’t dwell on it here. Suffice to say that Mr Blatter is very ‘hands on’, is likely to stand for another term, is likely to be elected and whilst not universally popular (especially within UEFA) is certainly an astute politician. The popularity of football generates enormous revenues for FIFA from TV. It is very good at using this wealth to cement its power, to use its influence and to be fair, to spread the benefit across the world.   
Delegates were treated to a Congress Opening Ceremony billed as ‘a dazzling celebration of Brazilian culture, its people and its natural environment’. It was indeed a kaleidoscope of colours, sounds, visuals, songs and dance. The undoubted highlight for me was a ‘parade’ of 209 children each carrying the flag of one of the Member Associations affiliated to FIFA. It was surprisingly moving to watch and it put into perspective just how huge and diverse our world is and how football transcends differences in race, colour, creed, religion and other perceived ‘barriers’ to togetherness. Some of the countries represented are in deep turmoil and it was a time to remember how lucky most of us are because we can easily sit back and enjoy a global sporting event rather than worrying about hunger, disease, war and other catastrophic events.

The flags of the 209 Member Associations are paraded by children – football is truly global

The Football

The ‘public’ opening ceremony was colourful and lively, if a little bizarre but it was a mere curtain raiser for the home team’s first match; Brazil V Croatia. What an atmosphere!

A giant electric football forms the centerpiece of the Opening Ceremony

The National Anthem before kick-off made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. I knew I was very privileged to be there. Perhaps the expectations on the Brazilian players was too much however because they went a goal down early on and eventually won a scrappy nervous encounter. The 3:1 score was very flattering.

The wall of sound coming from the Brazilian crowd was literally awesome

Immediately after the match I headed to the airport and after a circuitous, expensive and decidedly uncomfortable night of travelling I finally arrived in Salvador for the Spain V Netherlands match. I, like people all over the world, watched in stunned disbelief as the match unfolded. We witnessed the end of an era as the ‘mighty’ Spain were literally humiliated by a very impressive Dutch team who played some of the best football I have ever seen. Scintillating, breathtaking stuff. As the match finished I realized that in my enthusiasm to get to the stadium I had not planned my return journey to my hotel. I ended up walking and walking and eventually getting lost in a seriously scary place.

The end of an era? – Spain V Holland, an unforgettable match

The next match I saw was in Rio at the amazing and iconic Estadio do Maracana (another lifetime ambition achieved). The atmosphere was again electric as Argentina took on minnows Bosnia-Herzegovina. In actual fact, it was a pretty dull game apart from one exquisite piece of skill by you know who, the inimitable Lionel Messi. As I watched his supreme goal I looked forward to seeing him again in Hong Kong in October. I thoroughly enjoyed my few days in Rio, the tournament was starting to come to life and it is a vibrant, exotic place.

But I had one more match to watch and so it was back to Sao Paulo to see my beloved England in a crucial encounter with Uruguay (another potential opponent of Hong Kong in September). Well what can I say? I know I should be used to it by now but defeat still hurts. Although after this second loss it was still mathematically possible to qualify, it was improbable and the England fans there, myself included, knew it. However, the squad is young and I am sure we will do better in 2018 (I thought I would get my unwavering but totally mis-placed and only to be disappointed optimism in early this time). Neither team played particularly well; the main difference was the finishing quality of Suarez (more about him later).

Post Visit Reflections

My time in Brazil had come to an end. I was sorry to be leaving just as the tournament was getting interesting. It had been a great experience and I know how lucky I am to have been to a World Cup in Brazil. My only regret is that I think it could have been a lot better as an event. I don’t see there being any real football or social legacy and the country doesn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to invest in much-needed infrastructure or raise the standard of service, which is frankly woeful at times.

But for now the focus is on the football and I have to say that it is an open and exciting competition. The South American teams were expected to do well including Brazil and Argentina. Whilst the ‘big two’ are somehow stumbling through, some of the lesser known Latin American teams are playing great football including Columbia and Costa Rica. The Europeans seem to be polarized into two main groups, namely disappointing and excellent with Spain, Portugal, England and Italy in the first group and Germany, Holland, France, and Belgium in the latter.

The Asian teams have had a very poor campaign and the difference in skill level, intensity and physicality has been exposed. This must be a worry to the AFC. Three points in total for the four teams is a poor return and ironically the team that didn’t gain a single point, Australia, actually played entertaining attacking football in a difficult group, scoring one of the best goals of the tournament.

I am troubled and disappointed by the performance and behaviour of some the African nations. There is no place at any level of football for match-manipulation, but for allegations to be made concerning two teams at the World Cup is astonishingly worrying. Nothing is proven yet and I sincerely hope that in this case there is smoke without fire. What I also find unfathomable is the Ghana bonus situation. It seems that players are holding Associations to ransom these days over bonus payments. Quite frankly I have never understood the concept of bonuses when playing for your country. Needing ‘additional’ financial incentive to try harder to win a football match at any level is an anathema to me but for your country at a World Cup, it’s unbelievable. What’s more Ghana didn’t win a single match so what exactly was the US$3m cash actually rewarding – one draw and failure to progress from the group stage? Talk about throwing good money after bad.

Obviously one of the saddest and most annoying incidents was the Luis Suarez bite. What I found most disturbing was not the bite itself, sickening as it is, but the people who have leapt to his defense in a pathetic attempt to condone the unforgivable. FIFA acted swiftly and decisively and I think the ban is about right, if not on the lenient side for a third offense.

Unfortunately for me there has also been too much simulation, diving, time-wasting and general histrionics by some of the players from some of the teams. I watched Robben take a blatant dive in the match against Spain and whilst there is no doubting his footballing brilliance, like Suarez he should know better. These people have the potential to be role-models for aspiring footballers and young people all over the world. Unfortunately they do not use their privileged position to become positive icons and it is their unacceptable behavior and lack of sportsmanship that will ultimately define them. The fact that their colleagues, peers, coaches, mentors and even politicians defend them simply reinforces their own sense of self-importance.


And so as I said at the start, for me this world cup (so far) has been a reflection of the good and the bad in our sport of football. There is no doubt that generally the quality of the football is incredibly high with technique, tactics and physical attributes on display that us mere mortals can only wonder at. Football is arguably the only truly global sport and therefore has a unique ability to bring all people together. The passion, friendliness and camaraderie of fans in Brazil was fantastic. I did not see one bit of aggression (off the pitch). I shared drinks, good times and bad times with people from myriad nations. That bit was great.

I won’t allow the negative aspects of the tournament to spoil it for me but neither should they be ignored or forgotten by me, by you the reader and more importantly by the football authorities. Those of us involved in the sport should never forget our responsibility to use football as a force for good, to bring people together to promote positive behaviour and enhance humanity. I fervently hope that the rest of the tournament will showcase what is good about football (fingers crossed).
Mark Sutcliffe July 2nd 2014




大賽前充斥負面的「廣泛宣傳」— 孰真?孰假?










隨著比賽完結的哨聲響起,我立即飛奔直赴機場。經過了一段迂迴、昂貴兼不舒適的晚間旅程後,終於抵達了巴西薩爾瓦多,為的是觀看西班牙與荷蘭的世紀大戰。我,與全球球迷的心情一樣,對於賽果感到難以置信,大家共同見證著西班牙「強勢」時代的一個終結,如何被荷蘭的悅目足球徹底摧毀,而後者亦是本人有生以來觀看的最佳賽事之一, 真是妙不可言、令人窒息的感覺!賽事完結後,我驚覺自己的激情仍在場館上空縈繞,因此我放棄了折返酒店的念頭,而是不斷漫無目的地前行,最終迷失在一個極度心寒的陌生地方。