By Hans Ebert

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A few of us were having dinner after the Chinese New Year race meeting at Shatin yesterday. Looking back on what was the most successful CNY race meeting ever- turnover of HK$1.759 billion, attendance of over 96,000- we talked about how the winning riders came from Brazil- champion jockey Joao Moreira, below, and Silvestre de Sousa- a double from Irishman Neil Callan, a treble from Australian Sammy Clipperton and winners for South African Douglas Whyte and another Australian Nash Rawiller.

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In a world suddenly so divided, it showed how sports bring people together. Just think back to all the players of different personalities who, apart from their great athleticism, made the Australian Open such a huge success, and gave Melbourne something positive to talk about.

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A female friend of ours who lives in Hong Kong, and is a huge cricket fan, pointed out how here’s a sport with all its innovations today, especially in the T20 matches, that brings together teams comprising so many different nationalities.

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Cricket doesn’t discriminate. Cricket has quickly become the catalyst for bringing nationalities, on and off the field, together. This led us to where the sport is heading in Hong Kong.

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Yes, if one is searching for news on the sport, there are bibs and bobs of information- players recruited and contracted to make appearances at the upcoming T20 Bash in the city, the photo opportunity that the “iconic” Regal International Hotel Group will be one of CricketHK’s official partners, and a couple of other paragraphs in the sports pages of the English-language newspaper the South China Morning Post.

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It’s nice enough information for those who are already supporters of the sport and the series coming up. And then what? But, before even asking that, where’s the funding going to come from to take the sport in Hong Kong further? Much further.

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As written here earlier, there are only two possible “investors” in the sport who are large enough to help achieve this objective: The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust and the Hong Kong Government.

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As for the latter, despite over HK$20 billion earmarked for “sports” with mention of this going towards football, tennis and “trendy” recreational activities- lap dancing? Salsa lessons?- there was no mention of anything, not one cent, earmarked for cricket by the outgoing government of Chief Executive CY Leung in his recent final policy speech.

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What’s really needed from a long-term point of view are new grounds- exclusive grounds for world class matches with the capacity to house and entertain thousands of fans, nets for practising and honing the talents of more young local players like Li Kai-ming.

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Also needed, state of the art broadcasting technology for a sport that has evolved to make everything about it more attractive to fans and sponsors.

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This is where there’s a need for a business, and marketing strategy to make the Hong Kong government and the HKJC and its Charities Trust understand how cricket works- not the game, not the superstars coming out to Hong Kong next month, how well the Hong Kong team did overseas, how Regal International has become a partner- but what the internationalism of cricket can bring to Hong Kong- and for the good of Hong Kong. Surely this means highlighting and creating something along the lines of The United Nations Of Cricket in Hong Kong?

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Having introduced CricketHK to the HKJC, after one very initial meeting, the latter organisation seems none the wiser about what cricket can give back to the people of Hong Kong.

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Tim Cutler, below, has, in the short time since he’s been appointed CEO of CricketHK, done a good job to advance the promotion of the sport, and should be commended for what he’s already achieved.

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Now, however, is the time to spread that net and communicate to not just that captive market, but focus on increasing the sport’s customer base by marketing it to the local Chinese population. This means working with local media partners. And from a funding point of view, somewhere along the way, something seems to have been lost in translation. If that door with the HKJC hasn’t closed forever, it needs to be pried open with a comprehensive and strategic programme in place that it will find to be relevant.

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As we who live in Hong Kong should know by now, the HKJC Charities Trust doesn’t back every runaway horse that comes their way wanting funding. There’s a need to research everything and everyone the organisation has supported over the years- the elderly, youth football, the performing arts, the venues to house these arts that have become iconic buildings- and what makes all of this relevant to this city. It has to do with everything coming together to create a better Hong Kong for a new, young Hong Kong.

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For example, the week of the Hong Kong International Races held every December is a wonderful showcase for The World Turf Championships where heroes of the sport- both equine and human- come together to compete at the racecourses in Happy Valley and Shatin. But there’s everything else to keep the sport alive and thriving all year round.

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IF The Hong Kong Government, or the HKJC Charities Trust, are to get behind cricket, it’s only if the sport can benefit Hong Kong- multi cultural Hong Kong that’s part of Mainland China.

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Personally speaking, if an organisation is called CricketHK- Cricket Hong Kong- it must be about this city- and what the sport can do FOR this city.

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This really can’t be made more clear. And if this still needs to be spelt out, let the sport continue as a footnote in the sports pages of an English language newspaper, which is doing as good a job as possible with what it has to work. But, surely, now is the time to unveil The Big Picture and market Hong Kong cricket as being created for Hong Kong and Made In Hong Kong for the world?

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