Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A fruitful year to remember

I can’t believe that another ‘Gregorian’ year is nearly over and I head back to the UK tonight to spend Christmas and New Year with my family.

2015 has been a busy and successful year at the HKFA. Some of the highlights have been:
·         Securing an additional five-year funding programme from the Government
·         Entering into a new five-year partnership with the HK Jockey Club for football development
·         Moving a step closer to the construction of the Football Training Centre by having the capital and       land approved by the Jockey Club and the Government respectively
·         Being awarded the ‘Developing’ Member Association of the year award by the AFC

Of course the performance of the Hong Kong Representative Team in 2015 has been nothing short of amazing. Even the most optimistic person could not have predicted that we would finish the year in second place in the group. The two nil, nil draws against neighbours and rivals China were hard to watch but magnificent spectacles. The passion of the Coach and team was equaled by that of the crowd and will live long in the memory. We fully deserve our current FIFA ranking of 137 which is the highest it has been since 2007.

I would like to thank my colleagues, the Board, our partners and all football stakeholders for their help and support in 2015. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to lead the organization. It will be difficult to match the 2015 success in 2016 but I will do my best and I know everyone else will too. I will do everything possible to continue the enhancement and development of Hong Kong football. I am of the opinion that 2015 marks the turnaround in the fortunes of Hong Kong football. Of course things are not perfect and there is room for a lot of improvement. At least now we have the resources and strategy to move forward positively.

On the other hand 2015 has been a disaster for FIFA! Let’s hope that 2016 is more fortuitous for our Governing Body; let’s face it, it can’t be any worse. We are due to get a new President in February and a reform programme has already been drawn up. I hope that FIFA will stop imploding and provide the leadership that the World’s most popular sport deserves.

Christmas is a joyous time but also a time to reflect that not everyone enjoys such good fortune. There are a lot of people in the World who are suffering right now and my heart goes out to them; I know how lucky I am. Closer to home there are tragedies too and I am shocked and saddened by the recent traffic accident that has torn apart the life of one of our women’s representative team players, Gigi. I know that no words will bring comfort or ease the pain but everyone at the HKFA is thinking about all of those who have been affected. We will help in any way we can.

It just remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Mark Sutcliffe, December 2015

Monday, 30 November 2015

Football Training Centre – Tseung Kwan O (Progress Report)

Introduction and Context

I have been asked to write a blog about the FTC – so here goes.
A FTC for Hong Kong has been in discussion and planning for a considerable period of time, over a decade in fact. There is no question that it is desperately needed as a dedicated base for football development activity across Hong Kong.
As identified in the HKFA strategy, the development of football in Hong Kong is being compromised by a lack of quality footballers, coaches and officials. The ‘peripatetic’ nature of facility allocation and use at the highest level of the sport is detrimental. A dedicated, exclusive and purpose built facility would provide significantly better opportunities for the training of players, coaches and officials and be a catalyst for the long term systematic improvement of football.
There is also a lack of accessible good quality football facilities in Hong Kong at the District and Regional level. Additional pitches with ancillary facilities at Tseung Kwan O could fill the gap within the Sai Kung District freeing up existing community facilities for general public use.
The HKFTC would be the ‘nerve centre’ for football in Hong Kong and be the catalyst to drive and improve the quality of football. The centre would be a major asset in the development of players, coaches and referees.
The vision and aspiration for the FTC is as follows:

·         The home of Hong Kong Football and the centre for football training, education, learning and career development. 
·         The training base for all Hong Kong national and junior teams and would encompass the training of coaches, referees and administrators.
·         The HKFTC will create a legacy for future generations of football in Hong Kong.
·         A High Performance Centre for Elite footballers in Hong Kong
·         A community football centre
It is important that the FTC is not seen as an isolated project. It is in fact a key part of the football development strategy. This development was a key recommendation of Project Phoenix. The new five-year strategy, Aiming High - Together reinforces the need for the centre which will provide football with the infrastructure it needs to train and educate the footballers, coaches and officials of tomorrow.


The core of the revised plan is six football pitches (three natural turf and 3 artificial). These will be supported by associated infrastructure including; access road, fencing, floodlights, car park and temporary buildings to house changing rooms, showers, toilets, offices, classroom, gym, storage etc.
The temporary nature of the buildings means that this is seen as a phase 1. A future phase 2 is envisaged which would include more permanent structures and additional pitches (subject to land availability).

Progress of the Scheme

The HKFA submitted an application to the HKJC Charities Trust in March 2015. On 27th April the Charities Trust approved the application and awarded the HKFA a sum of HK$133 million for the development of the TKO Football Training Centre. This included the HK$102.7m previously awarded in 2005 and a new award of HK$30.3m. The HKFA received a letter on 28th May confirming the award and setting out the conditions that will apply. The HKFA has subsequently confirmed its acceptance of these terms.
The HKFA intends to operate the facilities through a newly established subsidiary company and the Board of the HKFA has agreed to underwrite the operating deficit of the centre (estimated to be circa HK$3m per annum). A multi-stakeholder Steering Committee will be established to oversee the development and construction. A specialist Project Manager will be appointed to assist. 
The project Steering Group of the Government’s Landfill Revitalisation Scheme has agreed in principle the release of the land. The HKFA met (23rd October) with a Government Inter-Departmental Working Party to identify key issues and to confirm the various roles and responsibilities of each relevant Government Department. This was a useful first meeting.
The HKFA has also met with the MTR Corporation in view of the proximity of the site to the Lohas Park MTR station and to discuss ways in which access to the facilities can be incorporated.
The HKFA has prepared tender documents for the appointment of a Project Manager (PM). The role of the PM will be to advise the HKFA on all technical matters and to liaise with Government Departments and other stakeholders. The PM will also be responsible for preparing tender documents for the construction project and for the appointment and subsequent supervision of design and build contractors. The PM position has been advertised in accordance with the HKFA procurement policy and ICAC advice on procurement and it is hoped that an appointment will be confirmed in December.       

The proposed Football Training Centre is fundamental to the delivery of the Strategic Plan. Additional pitches are desperately needed at all levels but particularly for the training and development of elite players. Recently the project has moved a number of steps closer with the award of a capital grant from the HKJC Charities Trust and the allocation of the land by the Government. The HKFA has started to meet with the various stakeholders, in particular a Government inter-departmental working group. A PM will be appointed in the near future and will commence work as a consultant to the HKFA in January. 
If all goes to plan the facility will be ready by mid to late 2017.

Mark Sutcliffe, CEO November 2015

Friday, 20 November 2015

Hong Kong V China Footnote

I note with concern and disappointment that the mainland tabloid Global Times has criticized the behavior of the Hong Kong fans and called for FIFA to impose ‘severe penalties’ against the HKFA. I would like to make a few observations about this:

·         Firstly they are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. Most observers agree that the vast majority of fans from both sides behaved impeccably and that generally it was a good natured, if lively crowd. At one point both sets of fans even participated in a Mexican wave. Any negative behavior including booing the anthem and jeering opposing fans was actually limited in scale and took place before the match. During the match and afterwards there was no trouble at all.
·         The Global Times fails to recognize that the negative behavior referred to above was largely incited by the ridiculous CFA poster campaign. It may also have been exacerbated by the rather arrogant statements made by certain members of the China delegation before the match that they would be going home with three points. That was disrespectful and unsporting. Maybe the fact that some humble pie was necessary after the match has led to this latest stance. I wonder, would they be demanding this action had they won the match?

·         Personally I don’t think it is appropriate for a newspaper to be seeking to influence FIFA, they should report the news, not try to create it. One of the things that sickens me most when watching a football match is when players try to persuade the referee to caution an opponent. This is tantamount to the same thing.

·         I believe the Global Times is state controlled. Article 17 of the FIFA statutes confirms that ‘Each Member (Association) shall manage its affairs independently and with no influence from third parties’. Perhaps they should be a bit careful in this regard. Fortunately I have no doubt that FIFA will make its own decisions (which I accept could be a further sanction) and will simply ignore this petulant request.

I also believe that the CFA has lodged a complaint with FIFA about the alleged ‘ghost’ goal. Seriously, what is the point? The match is over, get over it, the result is not going to be changed. Hong Kong was on the receiving end of an abysmal decision in our recent match against Thailand. We could have complained but we didn’t. Similarly we could have complained about the fact that one of the China players was only booked and not sent off for a cynical and clearly premeditated horror tackle on Jaimes McKee in the first minute. We could have complained that our goal was disallowed when their goalkeeper fumbled the ball and fell over, we didn’t. I can understand why they are upset about the decision but this is football. As I stated in my previous blog, if you are going to play sport you have to accept that occasionally you will be given harsh and sometimes incorrect decisions.

That’s life.

The poet Rudyard Kipling put it more eloquently than I can when he wrote…”If you can meet Triumph and Disaster, and treat these two imposters just the same……you’ll be a Man, my son”.

Mark Sutcliffe,  November 2015        

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Phoenix has Risen

I want to start with a bit of context. In terms of land mass China is nearly 9,000 times bigger than Hong Kong. It has a population almost 200 times the size of Hong Kong. The China football team is ranked 61 places above Hong Kong (November FIFA Rankings). The number of professional clubs, players and the resources at their disposal similarly dwarfs Hong Kong football.

Despite these advantages they could not score a single goal against us in over three hours of football. This is a remarkable performance. To me these two draws are at least as big an achievement as the 1985 victory because let’s be honest, in those days football in China was, at best, embryonic. There was no professional league in China until 1994, whereas Hong Kong had had one for decades.
I’m not going to talk about the disallowed goal when it appears that the ball crossed our line. There is no goal line technology at Mong Kok so we will never know for sure. These types of incidents happen from time to time and if you are involved in football, indeed all sports, you have to accept that you have to take the rough with the smooth. I’ve got over (just) Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany in the 2010 World Cup, so China will have to get over this, as I’m sure they will when the rawness is gone.

Our team rode its luck in the away match (China had 40 attempts on goal) and I have made that point in a previous blog. Last night I thought it was much more even and although they had more possession and hit the woodwork, so did we and we had a goal disallowed too. We could easily have nicked it at the end when their goalkeeper came up for a corner leaving their goal wide open. A Hong Kong win would have rubbed salt in the wounds and at the end of the day I think a draw was a fair result.

I must pay tribute to Coach KIM, the other support staff and, in particular, the players. They played as a team and fought with spirit, determination and skill. The new players have come in and made a difference – the Chinese were right not to underestimate the multi-cultural nature of our team. The players may have different backgrounds but they have one thing in common, they love Hong Kong and are prepared to play their hearts out. I was proud of everyone involved.
Yet again the crowd was magnificent. The atmosphere was electric and the noise incredible. The relationship between the team and the fans is very strong and this has certainly contributed to our recent improved performances.

I believe that the recent improvements are symptomatic of the general development of football in Hong Kong. It is no accident or coincidence. Rather it is the culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. Through our work here at the HKFA we are trying to create sustainable structures and an environment where talent can flourish. Success in international sport is not rocket science but it does require a vision, strategy, the alignment of resources and lots of hard work.

Whilst the great performance of our team is undeniable, there is no room for complacency. We must remain grounded and continue to work towards even more improvement – there is still a long way to go. What we have to do now is use the momentum we have generated and capitalize upon it. We must translate the success of and enthusiasm for the representative team into other areas of football in Hong Kong including the Premier League.

When the draw for the WCQ was made and we were in pot 5, who would have thought that with one match left we would be in second place with a chance (albeit an outside one) of qualifying as one of the top 12 teams in Asia? I’m looking forward to the Qatar match; we have already exceeded my expectations and anything positive from here is a bonus. I know our team will be ready and willing to give everything.

Mark Sutcliffe, November 2015

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Hong Kong Stadium Pitch - Update

About 10am on Saturday morning I started getting messages that the Hong Kong Stadium pitch was worse than it was before. I thought people were joking. Unfortunately they weren’t. I went to the stadium myself at about 11am and was shocked by what I saw. I had fully expected to go to the rugby and see a perfect pitch and to be writing in this blog how frustrated I was that our game against China next week wasn’t going to be played at the HK Stadium. Instead I had to agree with LCSD that there is no way the pitch would recover in time. Indeed it looked like it hadn’t ‘recovered’ from the last rugby 7s held in March. So instead of asking ‘why is it not possible for a pitch to recover in 9 days’? I found myself asking ‘how is it possible to spend 7 months and HK$100m and still end up with a pitch that is virtually unplayable’? It is no good blaming 50 ‘vigorous’ games of rugby, the sad truth is that the pitch was cutting up badly in the first game.

Believe me, there is no way that the pitch could have sustained a 15 a side game of rugby, it would have been ripped to shreds. I am relieved that this weekend’s rugby 7s tournament effectively acted as a ‘test’ event. If it had been untried and we had played against China on it next week, goodness knows what would have happened. When the pitch was bad during the Barclays Asia Trophy it was apparently the Football Association’s fault for scheduling too many matches and the rain’s fault for …er…. raining. Now it is apparently a problem with the ‘heat’ in September. Surely the excuses are running thin now, in fact almost as thin as the grass cover on the pitch.

In retrospect it appears that the decision to play the match against China at Mong Kok is the right one but of course not for the right reason. I remain very concerned about the HK Stadium pitch because it is supposed to be the home venue for one of our Premier League teams and we also want to use it for other upcoming matches such as the Lunar New Year Cup in early February. I am not interested in excuses any more, we just need urgent assurances that there is a longer term solution to what is obviously a problematic situation.

Mark Sutcliffe, November 2015

Monday, 26 October 2015

World Cup/Asian Cup Qualifier - Hong Kong V China, 17th November 2015

In my opinion, not holding the match against China at the Hong Kong Stadium (HKS) is very disheartening and a great shame for local football. Let’s face it, this is the biggest and most important match to be held in Hong Kong for decades. It is more significant even than the 2009 East Asian Games final (against Japan) that was the catalyst for much of the recent revival of Hong Kong football. We have come a long way since then and a lot of hard work has been done by both the Football Association and the Government, often working in partnership.

Some ill-informed media have suggested that the HKFA has been complicit in the decision not to hold the match at the Hong Kong Stadium but let me set the record straight on that point once and for all. The Board of the HKFA unanimously agreed that the match should be played at the HKS. This decision was communicated not only in a press release but also directly to the Government both in writing and verbally on numerous occasions.

The reason for the decision given to us by the Government is that according to their own pitch experts, the playing surface at the HKS will not have time to recover sufficiently from a rugby 7s tournament due to take place there 9 days earlier. For the avoidance of doubt, I attach no blame whatsoever to the HKRU who have simply seen an opportunity and taken it.
If indeed it is the pitch that is the main issue, then it raises some important questions that need to be answered:

·         Why did the Stadium management accept a request by the Rugby Union to host an Olympic Qualifying competition so soon after the anticipated completion of the pitch reconstruction?
·         Why did the Stadium Management not consult the HKFA before accepting the booking when they knew the date was in the middle of the football season?
·         Since the clash of dates was known in January 2015, why has there been no discussion about the options to avoid it? For example, could the rugby matches have been held at a different venue e.g. Sui Sai Wan? I understand that they are prepared to go there (a rugby match is being played there in February) and I believe that the capacity is more than sufficient for the anticipated crowd.
·         Why can other stadia around the world accommodate higher levels of use? 

The Stadium has been shut for pitch reconstruction since March and was due to re-open at the end of September. I understand that the cost of the project is around HK$100m. I have worked in sport for over 30 years and I simply don’t understand why a new, high specification pitch cannot support 2 days of rugby 7s (which is nowhere near as damaging as 15 a-side rugby) and then be ready again to play a football match 9 days later. The Government has apparently relied on its own ‘experts’ in making this decision. Clearly and to some extent understandably, these experts have erred on the side of caution. Whether they have been ‘encouraged’ to do so or not, who knows? Let’s just say that my offer to bring in an expert from FIFA to provide an independent second opinion was not taken up. Bearing in mind the investment, the time involved and the expertise of the Jockey Club (who have managed the reconstruction), it must be a very, very, very close call as to whether or not the pitch will recover in time.  If the local experts are right and if their opinion had been corroborated by an independent expert from FIFA, surely it would have strengthened their case. As it is, I fully expect that we will watch the rugby on the 7th and 8th of November and it will become apparent that the pitch would have been OK for the football on the 17th after all…………but of course it will be too late by then.

Some commentators have suggested that the decision not to play the match at the HKS is more to do with the recent booing of the National Anthem than it is the state of the pitch. They might say that, I couldn’t possibly comment. The HKFA has been fined by FIFA for the booing and warned that further, more serious sanctions will be imposed for any repeat offense. The HKFA has consistently asked the fans not to boo the National Anthem but in reality how are we supposed to stop people voicing their opinion? I am becoming resigned to the fact that it will happen again. FIFA won’t care whether 40,000 or 6,700 people boo the Anthem; so the choice of stadium is actually irrelevant from that perspective or at least it should be.

On this point, it is ironic and somewhat irritating that the HKFA is being punished for the booing when the problem was caused in the first place by the China Football Association’s marketing team by releasing bizarre (and some would say racist) posters about the Hong Kong football team.     
Without doubt, the most disappointing thing about this whole situation is that thousands of people will be deprived of an opportunity to watch the Hong Kong team live. There is a huge difference in capacity between Mong Kok and the HK Stadium. I believe we would have sold out the main stadium and what an atmosphere that would have created! It could have been one of the most memorable nights in Hong Kong sporting history, especially if we win. Huge interest in the Hong Kong Representative team has been built up as a result of our success in this qualification campaign to date and it would have been nice to have been able to build on this success and to reward our many fans.

Similarly, I am convinced that the momentum would have been carried forward into support for other local football initiatives including greater interest in the Premier League and general participation at the community level, both things that we are committed to do and we are measured against. 
Of course there is a financial aspect to this too. The bottom line difference to the HKFA of holding this match at the Mong Kok Stadium rather than the Hong Kong Stadium is around HK$3-4m. This is money that the HKFA and football desperately needs. I intend to raise the issue of compensation with the Government once I have gained approval to do so from the Board.   
I genuinely don’t like being critical of the Government. After all, they were the ones that started the revival of football in Hong Kong, they have provided generous funding for the transformation process and we have to work together on the implementation of our new strategic plan. However the HKFA is an independent body and must remain so if we are to retain our status as a Member Association of FIFA. This incident (together with the 2013 Barclays Asia Trophy pitch fiasco) will always be my biggest disappointment when I eventually reflect on my time in Hong Kong. Both issues have involved problems with the HK Stadium pitch and both could and should have been avoided. Therefore I think it is justified to set out in this blog my personal opinion of the situation. As you can no doubt tell, I am deeply frustrated.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision, it won’t change and so we have to plan for the match at Mong Kok. Incidentally, Sui Sai Wan was suggested as an alternative venue but we decided against that. We are often accused of being financially driven but I hope this decision proves otherwise. Yes, we could have taken more revenue by playing there but the pitch is poor, there would have been no atmosphere because of the athletics track and more importantly, the Coach and players stated a preference to play at Mong Kok.

The questions I have raised in this blog can wait until after the match; that has to be our focus now. I would like to end on a positive note by wishing the team every success. It can still be a memorable and successful night, even if it will be remembered, by me at least, as a massive missed opportunity.

Mark Sutcliffe, October 2015

Friday, 18 September 2015

HKFA Progress Report: Strategy and Finance

It’s quite a while since I blogged and there has been lots happening. To get the ball rolling again I have prepared a presentation for you to download which is an overview of our strategy and funding.
It contains a review of Project Phoenix and our new Strategic Plan, Aiming High – Together. The presentation illustrates how Project Phoenix has been the catalyst for the further development of football in Hong Kong and has led to us being able to secure more funding. In April this year we started a new five-year funding cycle with the Government (HAB) worth HK$25m per annum and in June we commenced a five year programme with the Hong Kong Jockey Club worth HK$120m. The HAB money will be used to fund payroll costs and other overheads of the HKFA as well as contributing to specific activities linked to the delivery of the strategic plan. The HKJC money will be used for football development activities including youth coaching and leagues, girls and women’s football, grass roots programmes, futsal, refereeing, coach education etc. We are delighted to be working with the Jockey Club and grateful that they have seen that our strategic direction and implementation plans are strong enough to command this level of support.

We also receive funding from the LCSD which pays our representative teams training and competition expenses. The level of support we receive has increased since Project Phoenix and again we are grateful for that. It enables our 12 teams (football, futsal, men, boys, women and girls) to be better prepared for international competitions. This again is a key part of our strategic plan because good performances at the elite level encourage participation at all levels.

The HAB, HKJC and LCSD money is therefore to cover what I would call ‘software’. I am particularly excited to confirm that the long-awaited and desperately needed Football Training Centre (hardware) has also moved a step closer with the award of capital funding from the HKJC Charities Board and the release of the land at Tseung Kwan O by the Government. We can now move forward on this project and I hope we can be playing on new pitches some time in 2017. The link between software and hardware is clearly shown within our plan. Everyone knows we need more opportunities to play on good quality facilities. This milestone is a very important one and its potential impact should not be under-estimated.

It’s fair to say that not everyone agrees that Project Phoenix was a success but no-one can deny that it has transformed the HKFA and provided a springboard from which we can make steady progress in our quest to raise the standard of football in Hong Kong. I was astonished to realise that with the original Project Phoenix money together with the additional funding I have mentioned above, the HKFA will be investing an additional HK$500m during the period 2010 to 2020. The majority of this is yet to be spent, over 80% in fact and therefore Project Phoenix was only the early part of the journey. The hard work starts now. We must use this money wisely and really make an impact on local football. All stakeholders must truly Aim High – Together for the benefit of football. I look forward to making the vision reality.

Mark Sutcliffe September 2015     

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Hong Kong 2, Qatar 3

It would have been a brilliant comeback but sadly, it was not to be. What I would like to say first and foremost is that the fact that we are disappointed to lose a match like this shows just how far we have come in a relatively short period of time. Qatar won its last match 15-0, they are ranked in the top 100 and 57 places above Hong Kong. At the end they were hanging on and their Coach was pleading for the final whistle.

We all feel a bit flat today which is not surprising but looking at things objectively we should be pleased and proud of how well our team played and how they gave a fright to one of the better teams in Asia. We have made great progress recently and the fact that we could come back at the end speaks volumes about both the team spirit and the improved physicality of our players.
I don’t want to dwell on the referee’s performance because it is a difficult job and we all must accept that at times we take the rough with the smooth (some decisions undoubtedly went our way against China). I must say however that the decision to penalize our goalkeeper for delaying clearing the ball was a bit harsh. I have rarely seen this decision made and never without issuing a warning first. It was almost inevitable that it lead to the first goal. But let’s focus on the positives. 

It would be remiss of me not to mention the crowd and the support given by the Hong Kong fans. When I turned up at Mong Kok two hours before kickoff there was already a large crowd and a palpable buzz around the stadium. From start to finish the fans were magnificent and I know this gives a huge lift to the players. It’s a cliché but it is like having a 12th man on the pitch. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in football at the moment which is great and we at the HKFA must try to capitalize on this. I am sure the match against China in November will take this to a higher level altogether.

I think it is obvious to everyone, it certainly is to me, that the Hong Kong Representative Team is getting better. This potential was always there but the fact that it is now coming to the surface is really encouraging. What I’m more excited about however is that there is more to come. The changes we are introducing to the structure of football and the pathways for talented players will improve things in the future. Things will get even better when we have our own dedicated Football Training Centre and more sophisticated sports science support.

There is no doubt in my mind that Hong Kong football at all levels is on an upward trajectory. If we continue to build on this momentum the many football fans in Hong Kong will have many more great performances to cheer.

Mark Sutcliffe September 2015

Friday, 4 September 2015

China v Hong Kong 3rd September 2015

I don’t think my nerves will stand too many nights like last night! But what a performance. I was so pleased for Coach KIM and his team of coaches and players. The match statistics show that it was a pretty one-sided match (as you would expect against a team ranked 73 places higher) but our team worked so hard to maintain parity. Yes, we rode our luck at times, especially in the first half when the woodwork came to our help four times. Having said that we defended with courage and discipline and we kept a very organized shape throughout. There were some fantastic goal line clearances and our goalkeeper made some outstanding, I would say, world class saves.

China will be frustrated and disappointed not to have won but that’s the beauty of football; you have to put the ball in the back of the net. They had 90 minutes to do so and they failed to score. They were off target on many occasions and towards the end were reduced to shooting from long range. Initially it looked like they were a bit complacent thinking that they could score at will. As the game wore on I was surprised that they were so one-dimensional. Even though they made a number of substitutions they didn’t vary their shape or system and the transition from defense to attack was very pedestrian. This made it a bit easier for our team to defend. With about 20 minutes to go, I actually started to relax a bit because I didn’t think China could score.

In some ways I think last night’s performance was arguably as positive as Hong Kong’s victory against China in 1985. No disrespect meant to that outstanding team but China takes football much more seriously these days. Some of their players are paid more individually than our entire squad put together!
I would also like to pay tribute to the Hong Kong fans. They battled hard to simply buy tickets and get to the match! As ever their support was phenomenal and their behaviour was exemplary. I hope they remember the night for a long long time. Last night I was as proud of the fans as I was of the team.

I look forward now to the return leg to be played here in Hong Kong on 17th November. We still don’t know where the match will be played but in my opinion it would be a travesty if it was played anywhere other than the HK Stadium. This is one of the biggest and most important football matches to be played in Hong Kong and only our main stadium will do it justice. As many people as possible should be given the opportunity to watch the match and to support the team.  

I will finish with once again paying tribute to our fans and the Hong Kong team. It was an inspired brilliant performance. However, we must be realistic and keep our feet on the ground. In a few days we play against Qatar and they beat Bhutan 15-0 last night. It is sure to be another nerve jangling experience!

Mark Sutcliffe 

Thursday, 2 April 2015

HKRT Olympic Qualifiers 香港代表隊在2016奧運外圍賽的表現

HKRT Olympic Qualifiers

Firstly I would like to acknowledge that the results of the Hong Kong U22 team in the recent Olympic qualifying tournament were disappointing; there is no doubt about that. Coach KIM to his credit has already apologized for the performance.

I have met with KIM today and asked for a detailed report on the competition by the end of next week. I will review the situation once I am in possession of all the facts. I will reserve some judgement on the Olympic qualifiers until I have had chance to digest the detailed report but I would like to make some initial observations.

The Coach and some of the players have mentioned that the lack of a training camp was a contributory factor in the poor performance and this seems to have been picked up by the media. I am not dismissing this completely because I appreciate the need for teams to bond and to play together to develop an understanding on the pitch. My view however is that this is more of an excuse than a reason. If anyone thinks that simply getting the team together for a few days would make the difference between losing three games and winning them, then they are just deluding themselves. If only it was that easy to solve. Unfortunately there are some more fundamental problems to address.

Before I describe these problems, I would like to address the question of money. Let’s be clear, funding was not the main reason why there was no overseas training camp. In recent years the money spent by the Technical Department on representative team training and competition has increased dramatically and quite rightly so. Next year it is set to increase even further. This year has been extraordinarily busy for our representative teams in that there has been an Asian Games, the East Asian Games and other tournaments, competitions and one off matches. This has coincided with the start of the Premier League. The start of the season was delayed and there have been other gaps in fixtures created by the representative team matches. Many of these have been outside the FIFA International match days. There is a limit as to how often the HKFA can stop the league whilst being fair to the clubs and maintaining the integrity and public interest in the League. The issue was not about money but about the availability of players. The HKFA has to balance often conflicting objectives and reach compromises. These are not always understood by everyone especially if they are coming from one perspective without the benefit of seeing the whole picture.

So what are these more fundamental issues.

Firstly anyone who knows anything about football knows that it takes at least 10 years to train somebody to be good enough to play international football. The individuals playing in this tournament were mostly born in 1993. The period of time most critical to their development was arguably when they were between 10 and 20 i.e. 2003 to 2013. I wasn’t here then but I understand from talking to people who were, that there was very little football development at that time. Basically the system failed this cohort of players and I attach no blame to the players whatsoever. They are passionate about football and try their best whenever they play for Hong Kong. The point is that the lack of systematic coaching, training and competitive opportunity during their formative years has left them significantly behind players from other countries in terms of technique, physicality and tactical awareness. It is impossible to make up that gap overnight. As someone who has been involved in sports development for 35 years, believe me, no overseas training camp is going to overcome these long term deficiencies.

Another factor that needs to be considered is how frequently and intensely this group of players train and play now. Young local players in Hong Kong do not play often enough for their clubs or train as intensely as they should. Most Premier League Clubs have their full quota of foreign players (6 in the squad, 4 on the pitch at any one time). In addition to that many clubs have players deemed to be local because they have a permanent ID card but they are not eligible to play for Hong Kong because they don’t have a Hong Kong passport. So there are actually very few eligible players playing in the Premier League, very few of them are under 23 and very few play in key positions. The HKRT coaches actually have a limited pool of players to pick from. Couple that to the fact that some (not all) clubs are reluctant to release players for regular training (or overseas camps), then the results are less surprising.

It must also be remembered that the facilities and support for elite football in Hong Kong remain inadequate in terms of both quality and quantity. It is more important than ever that we get a dedicated Training Centre and access to expert Sports Science support.

In summary, I would accept that if we had had the resources and the players available to attend a training camp, it would have helped. However, I do not accept that it would have made a significant difference to the outcome. There are much more basic fundamental problems to resolve. In the new Strategic Plan, Aiming High – Together, (a copy of which is on the website) I set out potential solutions to these issues including (but not limited to):
  • building a training centre
  • developing a football curriculum
  • introducing a more systematic development continuum with pathways for talented players
  • establishing regional centres of excellence
  • helping clubs to develop their own Academies
  • providing better sports science and medical support to elite players
  • providing player welfare and second career opportunities
  • entering a U22/23 team in the Premier League

There are so many things we should be doing better but it takes time to change things and put new people and systems in place. I understand that people want immediate results. I understand that people with a limited knowledge of football expect Project Phoenix to have solved these issues at a stroke. Expectations need to be managed because Hong Kong football has failed a generation of players and it cannot be solved overnight. We need to find additional resources to help us to implement the plans we now have in place. In time things will improve. In the meantime we need to be patient and give our full support to the players and coaches as they do their best to represent Hong Kong with pride. 

Everyone is disappointed that we failed to qualify, not least the players and coaches. Equally everyone at the HKFA is committed to making things better.      

Mark Sutcliffe April 2015

其他因素包括這群代表隊成員參與訓練和比賽的強度和次數,本土的年青球員未必時常有機會代表球會參加比賽,又不常獲得足夠的強化訓練,這些都是他們所需的。大部分香港超級聯賽球會都會用上所有的外援名額 (在任何單一賽事中,六名外援出現在大軍名單中,而最多四名可以派遣上陣)。除此之外,在眾多球會中,有部分球員被視為本土球員看待,因為他們擁有香港永久居民身份證,但卻不符合代表香港參賽的資格,原因是他們沒有香港特區護照。因此,僅有少數符合代表香港出賽資格的球員參與香港超級聯賽,當中二十三歲以下和擔任核心位置的球員更寥寥無幾,所以香港代表隊教練只能在人員緊絀的名單中作出甄選,再加上部分球會(不是全部)不太願意讓旗下球員參與港隊的常規訓練(或海外集訓),因此成績自然欠奉。

  • 興建一個訓練中心
  • 發展一個香港足球課程
  • 推行更系統化的培育球員制度,讓有潛質的球員能走上晉升之路
  • 設立地區足球英才中心
  • 協助球會成立自己的足球學校
  • 為精英球員提供更好的運動科學和醫療支援
  • 提供球員福利和第二職業的機會
  • 於香港超級聯賽加入一支U22/23隊伍
二○一五年四月  薛基輔   

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Wong Wai Case 黃威受傷事件

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.
Yet again I would like to reiterate that the player’s welfare remains our top priority. At the time of writing he remains in hospital and we wish him a quick and full recovery. He is a talented player and we all want to see him resume his career.

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














二○一五年一月十五日  薛基輔