July 12, 2005

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The horses on the track go 'round and 'round

Compare and contrast:

IOC chief hopes events will spur on SAR:

The Olympic equestrian events may provide the spark that ignites Hong Kong's sporting future, according to International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge...Hong Kong may have "a generation of athletes who will shine'' in international sporting events in the years ahead.
Just maybe not this generation. The SCMP:
Hong Kong might be "hosting" the equestrian events at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, but they have been told unequivocally by Chinese officials that none of the six wild cards normally available to the host city will be given to local riders.

"The equestrian events are part of the Beijing Olympics and it is not Hong Kong's. I don't think any wild card will be given to Hong Kong riders," said Yu Zaiqing, executive vice-president of the Beijing Organising Committee for the 2008 Olympic Games yesterday.

You see, Hong Kong's part of the Motherland...except when it's not.

Amidsts yesterday's post on Hong Kong's Olympian burden I mentioned the expected 35,000 arrivals due to the even are paltry. To put it in context, in May Hong Kong had 1.821 million tourist arrivals. And Jake van der Kamp, in his piece (see below the jump) on the issue today, points out that the average tourist expenditure is about $4,200, meaning these extra tourists bring in $134.4 million, not the Government's $350 million. Unless of course these Olympian visitors are big spenders...which isn't out of the question.

On a related matter, the city is all over the controversial dumping of RTHK's live broadcasts of horse racing. No one is asking the real question - why does Hong Kong (or any place) have a public broadcaster? It doesn't.

One world, one nightmare - our very own Olympian squanderfest - Jake van der Kamp (SCMP)

So a city that takes an interest in horses only to the extent of how much money can be bet on how fast they run, and does not indulge in this pastime in the summer as it recognises that even horses can get heat stroke, is now expected to go ga-ga over how prettily horses can jump fences during the middle of a summer heat wave.

I think I do indeed hear a resounding echo. It is the one that Mr Tsang himself sounded recently by objecting, on moral grounds, to the live broadcasting of horse-racing by the government's own broadcaster, RTHK.

Too bad. Gambling on horses may be a repugnant business to him (although he does not seem averse to the money it brings into government coffers), but it could offer a way for the Jockey Club to recoup some its costs for hosting the 2008 Olympic equestrian events.

The Olympics have gold, silver and bronze, and the Jockey Club has win, place and show. What is more, there will be six of each medal in these events and that would allow the Jockey Club to use its betting machinery to give us the exotic bets too - tierce, quinella and the works.

Just think of it, extra income for very little effort, and an excellent way of interesting the punters in all the other things horses can do, such as pirouette, tempi and piaffe (apparently ... but don't ask me). Surely, you can still permit RTHK that series of broadcasts, Donald?

I mention this because the usual government hoopla we get to justify big shows has it on this occasion that 32,000 people will come here for these equestrian events - and spend $350 million.

I wonder about that dollar figure, as the average amount spent by a visitor here last year was about $4,200, and if I multiply that by 32,000, I get $135 million, not $350 million, while the estimated figure for the total cost has already hit $1.2 billion.

I suppose it is possible that these visitors could spend more. Then again they could also spend less. They will not be shoppers and most of what they spend on the show will go right back to the Olympic movement, not to Hong Kong.

Perhaps there will also be some money from the television rights in that $350 million figure, after the International Olympic Committee has taken its lion's share. But tell me how often you found yourself glued to your television set to watch horses jump fences. There will be a lot more happening in Beijing at the time, and advertisers know it.

Not to worry, though. We have been assured that the public purse will not put up money for these events. The Jockey Club will find the money itself.

You may have heard that line before, most recently in how the big cultural palaces and the fancy glass roof at the West Kowloon reclamation will cost us nothing, just a few property rights - a mere bagatelle.

In this case, I gather that the Jockey Club wants rights to the land presently occupied by the Sports Institute, next to the Sha Tin racetrack, plus - and here I am guessing - favourable treatment in renegotiating the betting duties it pays the government. That package could be worth more than $1.2 billion and in the end it would come out of our pockets.

But these are trifling matters. My biggest quibble with Mr Tsang's enthusiasm is that "one world, one dream" slogan. Where the prosperity of any country that has anything to do with the Olympics is concerned, that dream is more of a nightmare. Just ask the Greeks, who are now experiencing their own Olympic aftermath.

I am told that Sydney did well out of the Olympics, and perhaps Atlanta did too, but I have never seen the full accounting presented. Mostly, the Olympics boosters still measure that putative success only in such intangibles as civic pride and international profile.

Well, let us ask Athens, Seoul, Moscow and Montreal about international profile. They certainly raised theirs with the Olympics. They became bywords for massive squandering of money, the effects of which will stay or have stayed with them for years. Beijing in 2008 looks set to add its name to the list.

Let's get it straight. Hosting the Olympics is tantamount to breaking a mirror at midnight while walking under a ladder with a black cat crossing your path. Governments toss all prudence and common sense out the window when the Olympic dream starts to shine in their eyes. Some dream.

Fortunately, we will be doing it only in a small way. Let us be grateful for small mercies.

posted by Simon on 07.12.05 at 10:29 AM in the


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