The Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) held a press conference today to announce the launch of a development partnership with the Football Association of Iceland (KSI), in the hope of enhancing youth development in the Hong Kong football system.
In recent years, Iceland has been a surprising force in international football. A decade ago, they did not even rank in the top 100 of the FIFA World Rankings, but have now jumped up to 22nd place. Seen as huge underdogs in the 2016 European Championship, the country stunned the world with a major 1-0 upset over England in the preliminary rounds, and furthermore reached the quarter-finals – the best performance ever in Iceland’s football history.
With the success that the KSI has overseen, the HKFA sees it as a great example of what could be done in Hong Kong to acquire improvement. As Mark Sutcliffe, the CEO of HKFA, mentioned in the press conference, both Hong Kong and Iceland face similar restraints – the lack of pitches, in particular, due to extreme cold weather. However, they have found ways to work around difficulties, and football has become the most popular sport for this small country of approximately 350,000 people. On top of that, 450 coaches hold “A” grade licenses issued by UEFA (a ratio of 1:500 to its population), while in Hong Kong, only 30 coaches have obtained the equivalent qualification.
As Sutcliffe further elaborated, the twelve-month partnership program will be launched next month, and will be divided into three phrases. First, Icelandic technical experts will come to Hong Kong in September to educate local coaches, oversee young player’s development, and survey the HKFA’s structure. Second, as a reciprocal move, HKFA will send representatives to Iceland to learn and get ideas on what to improve. Finally, and perhaps the most exciting part of all, is that the Hong Kong U16 academy team will travel to Iceland for 10 days to play in a tournament, allowing our young players to experience western football and cultural differences. Once all phases come to an end, the program will be reviewed to see how beneficial it was. If the outcome is seen as being beneficial, the partnership will be extended, with the focus then switched to the women’s team.
The program received a one-million dollar sponsorship from a community called “We Like HK” and China SEC Property Holdings Ltd.
Regarding the Hong Kong Premier League, Sutcliffe told reporters that the season schedule will be tentatively released next week, as August 25 will be the official Opening Day. After the first week of local action, the Hong Kong Senior team will travel to play an international friendly against Singapore on August 31 to prepare for the final round qualifier in the AFC Asian Cup against Malaysia on September 5.