Hong Kong plots reform to transform football

HONG KONG - The Hong Kong government is proposing a radical reform of football to 'transform' the game in the Chinese-ruled former British colony.

The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) was one of the first founded in Asia but their international team, once a regional power, now languishes at 142nd in the FIFA rankings.

A new government-sponsored report recommends wholesale restructuring of the HKFA, a new professional league, a full time coach, more friendlies for the national team, better youth development and an improvement of facilities.

"If the changes are implemented in an effective way, it is possible to envisage a transformation of soccer in the next five to 10 years," Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing told the South China Morning Post.

The initial goal would be to get Hong Kong back into the top 100 in the FIFA rankings in five years, and the top 80 over the next decade.

Tsang promised additional funding but did not envisage all of the 75-100 million Hong Kong dollars ($9.67-$12.89 million) required over the next five years coming from the public purse.

"Soccer is big business in many other parts of the world and it may soon be the same in Hong Kong," he said.

Hong Kong have never qualified for the World Cup finals and will miss next year's Asian Cup finals in Qatar, although they did spring a major surprise by winning the East Asia Games title as hosts last year.

HKFA chairman Brian Leung Hung-tak welcomed the recommendations but said restructuring his organisation would not be easy.

"We have to bite the bullet if we want a better future for the sport," he told the paper.