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Hong Kong disabled athletes ‘need more backing’, says study after training grant disparity is revealed

Hong Kong’s disabled athletes should receive the same level of training and financial support as their able-bodied counterparts under a new full-time training scheme, a consultancy study recommended.

Currently, disabled athletes are part-timers and often face difficulties such as obtaining leave from their employers to prepare for and participate in major competitions. They also receive much less support than their elite-athlete counterparts.

A leading athlete such as cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze can receive a maximum elite training grant of HK$36,000 per month but a top disabled athlete only receive a subsidy of just HK$6,000, through the Sports Aid Grant for Athletes with Disabilities.

In Singapore, the level of and criteria for support for both able-bodied elite athletes and disabled elite athletes are similar, according to the study conducted by the Baptist University.

“A full-time training system is pivotal in the development of disabled sports in Hong Kong,” said professor Cheung Siu-yin, deputy leader of the consultant team at the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). “I think the relevant bodies should look at the trend of disabled sports around the world as it is no longer promoted for rehabilitation like its original aim but being a competitive sport like the able-bodied events.

“The Paralympic Games in Rio has proved if we want our disabled athletes to achieve results, we have to provide them with adequate and quality training so that they can compete against rivals from around the world who are mostly full-time athletes. This cannot be done without introducing a new support scheme including raising the level of financial support to disabled athletes.”

Hong Kong returned with two gold, two silver and two bronze medals from the Rio Paralympics, the poorest haul since the 2000 Sydney Games when they finished with just one gold.

Cheung’s team was commissioned by the Home Affairs Bureau to conduct a study on “Sport for people with disabilities in Hong Kong” after the chief executive announced in his 2015 Policy Address “the Government would commission a consultancy study on how to support disabled athletes and promote sports participation by people with disabilities in a more comprehensive manner”.

According to the study, the new scheme can include requiring full-time athletes with disabilities to, under the arrangements of their coaches, receive professional training not less than five days and 20 hours per week, including training related to sports science. They can also be receive arrangements and support for joining local and overseas competitions, sports science and related support, retirement and career support.

The study also recommended, with reference to the assessment criteria under the Sports Institute’s existing Elite Vote Support System, that a corresponding system be established for and to facilitate the development of high-level disability sports by making comparisons between the Olympics and the Paralympics, or between the Asian Games and the Asian Para Games.

The government is conducting a public consultation regarding recommendations made by the consultancy study and the three-month consultation will close on Friday.