Hong Kong football chiefs ‘not advanced enough, could be doing much better job’ – and city should legalise gambling on matches, national team star Philip Chan says

Philip Chan Siu-kwan says Hong Kong footballers are being failed by a local governing body lacking vision and urgency, and which “does things that cannot be explained”.

One of Hong Kong’s stand-out performers at last month’s Asian Cup in Qatar, the Tai Po midfielder said the sport was “in a stalemate” in the city, and the football association and government gave players insufficient support. He also insisted the ban on gambling on local football should be relaxed.

“The players are doing their best, and some of the games are of a high standard,” Chan said. “But we are all waiting for the day when the Hong Kong football ecosystem is healthier.

Chan (No 16) is an advocate for legalised gambling on Hong Kong Premier League matches. Photo: Elson Li

“That does not come down to the players, or team [owners]. I think the Hong Kong FA really needs to take a look at itself. They are not advanced enough, and have not lived up to expectations. They could be doing a much better job.

“At the Asian Cup, we saw for other teams, football, essentially, is a form of modern warfare, an index for the health of the nation. In Hong Kong, there are too many things that need improving.

“We need better broadcast deals, more sponsors and more attention. The pitches are poor, and at Tai Po we train on AstroTurf, and have only 1½ hours [at a public facility]. It will not change in the next 10 years, if nobody steps up.

“And, I am not afraid to say it, gambling should be legal – it attracts investment. We are not even close to [acting on] that, and still a long way from making Hong Kong football a proper industry.”

In 2003, the government, which has long resisted calls to allow gambling on football in the city, granted the Jockey Club permission to operate markets on overseas matches. It is feared that betting on local fixtures would leave them vulnerable to match-fixing.

The counterargument is that Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption guards against illegal activity, and introducing gambling on games could increase the league’s profile, and allow clubs to share in profits.

“People really pay attention to football when they are allowed to have a stake in it,” Chan said. “If it is introduced in a healthy fashion, and closely monitored, it is a way we can step forwards and increase public interest. They [government and FA] have been talking about it for years, but have done nothing.

“Football here is sustained by a few very generous investors, although I would not call them investors, because they get no return. They are just helping us, and giving young kids with potential a platform to perform. The government should be helping clubs, instead of getting bosses to pour in money.

“We have some quality in the league, but it needs exposure. Football in Hong Kong should be more respected. There is the capacity for that, but it needs the will to do it.”

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Chan’s international coach, Jorn Andersen, advocates reducing the six foreign players allowed in Hong Kong Premier League line-ups.

“I agree,” Chan, who has a sports science degree, said. “Six foreigners limits opportunities for local players. The point of the league is to produce home-grown players.

“Look at nearby countries, where the limit is much lower. But that is our league, that is our federation. They do stuff that cannot be explained at all.”

Chan’s club, Tai Po, train on AstroTurf, and have only a limited time period for their sessions. Photo: Handout

Chan, 31, scored Hong Kong’s only goal at the Asian Cup, and is the embodiment of the aggressive style introduced by Andersen. He did not rule out a future role in rousing local football from its sickbed.

“If I had the status to do it, I would try to change things,” Chan said. “I know some people have tried, but not made an impact. That is Hong Kong: you have to go through 80 different departments for one minor change. We should be aiming for rapid improvement.”

The FA and government have been approached for comment.


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