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Hong Kong's major sports events under threat with government set to scrap Mega Events Fund

The government’s Mega Events Fund (MEF) – which provides major financial backing for a number of international sports events including HK$15 million for December’s UBS Hong Kong Golf Open – is unlikely to exist when its five-year term expires in March, according to an official.

The government on Tuesday declined to confirm the future of the fund, which supports three major sports tournaments in 2016 and November’s Lumières Hong Kong, a cultural event that promotes the city’s history and culture through light projection.

An official who has long experience organising sports events in Hong Kong, said the government had no intention of continuing the fund after March.

“They are considering different options, but the MEF will definitely cease to exist after March,” said the official, who wishes to remain anonymous. “The annual Dragon Boat Carnival will be seriously affected as they are planning to stage next year’s event in June and it is unlikely the government could establish another fund in such a short period of time after the MEF ceases to exist.”

Established in 2009 with a sum of HK$100 million, the fund aims to assist non-profit making organisations host arts, cultural and sports events for a period of three years to promote Hong Kong as the events capital of Asia.

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It was later extended to five more years till March 31, 2017 with an additional HK$150 million under a modified two-tier system.

The two other sporting events supported by the MEF in 2016 are the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open (with HK$9 million funding) which ended last week and the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival in June with HK$6 million in support.

A spokesman for the Tourism Commission, which oversees the Fund, said: “The government is reviewing the way forward of the MEF and announcement will be made in due course.”

A spokesman of the Hong Kong, China Dragon Boat Association said they had heard from unconfirmed sources the government might not continue with the MEF after March, though no official announcement has been made.

“Even if they stop the fund’s operations in March, they should have some sort of arrangement to help us as we rely heavily on their support to run the event,” said the spokesman.

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The MEF has been supporting the Dragon Boat Festival since its establishment in 2009, injecting a total HK$37.75 million over the past seven occasions.

The government official said even without MEF support, sports bodies were able to make use of other channels.

“At present, other sponsorship schemes, for example, the “M” Mark System and Supporting Package, are available to support eligible sports events organisers’ staging of various sports events to promote sports development in Hong Kong,” he said.

However, the “M” Mark System through the Major Sporting Events Fund can provide only a one-off direct grant of HK$6 million, far much less than the MEF.

Golf will become the biggest loser should the MEF cease to exist. The sport has received a total of HK$53m to stage four Hong Kong Open tournaments and another HK$8m for the 2011 Women’s Open.

Vicky Jones, championship director for the European Tour, which sanctions the event, said MEF funding has helped to bring big names to Hong Kong such as last year’s winner Justin Rose.

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“As the organisers of the UBS Hong Kong Open, we have been delighted to receive MEF for the last two years,” said Jones, “This has enabled us to enhance the tournament and to bring some of the world’s best golfers to Hong Kong thereby increasing the scale of the tournament and broadening its appeal both locally and internationally.

“As such, the profile of the tournament has been raised and it has been able to further promote Hong Kong as a destination for major sporting events.

“We would certainly welcome the continuation of the Fund to assist in elevating sporting events to showcase what Hong Kong has to offer as one of Asia’s most dynamic and vibrant cities.”