League

HKFA holds AGM behind closed doors, ignoring calls for transparency

HKFA

The HKFA held its Annual General Meeting on Tuesday night where the items on the agenda were overshadowed by the lack of transparency over the meeting itself.

In accordance with its charter, the Hong Kong Football Association held its long delayed Annual General Meeting on Tuesday night at Olympic House. The AGM, which was originally scheduled for 31 March, was postponed due to the ongoing pandemic. In May, the HKFA received approval from the High Court to reschedule the meeting to a date no later than 30 September.

Although the AGM was eventually rescheduled for 29 September, media members were not informed until Tuesday morning that the meeting would take place later that evening, nor the fact that reporters would be barred from entering the auditorium. Six minutes prior to the start of the meeting, the HKFA suddenly notified reporters that a live stream of the event would be provided. However, once the meeting began, press members discovered that the audio of the stream was dubbed over with English simultaneous translation and no live audio would be available.

In May and June, LegCo’s Accounts Committee severely criticized the HKFA’s over its lack of transparency after an Audit Commission report found various fundamental problems within the organization. In spite of these criticisms, the HKFA defended its decision to bar media from the auditorium, citing limited venue capacity and the need to main social distancing. The organization, additionally, claimed that the live stream was available in English only due to unspecified AFC regulations.

Following the conclusion of the meeting, HKFA chairman Pui Kwan-kay attempted to convince reporters that the main purpose of the AGM is for administrative housekeeping and thus, in his personal opinion, “nothing particularly newsworthy” would have happened during the meeting. When pressed on whether those in the news business would be better positioned to adjudicate on the newsworthiness of the AGM than the HKFA, the chairman conceded that several items on the agenda may have been of significance in terms of news.

Five new clubs gain voting member status – none named R&F

16 items were listed on the agenda of the AGM, of which the most newsworthy was the extension of voting member status to five clubs. As membership within the HKFA consists of only two classes – Voting Member or Non-Voting Member – the motion’s importance stems from the fact that the former class entitles clubs to vote at future AGM’s whilst the latter class is only entitled to attendance.

Immediately, controversy brewed the applications submitted by First Division club Hoi King and Second Division club Chelsea Soccer School (HK). Several clubs at the meeting pointed out that the former’s application lacked the necessary documentation and that the latter’s application listed its secretary as the club’s only staff member. In response to the latter concern, Pui explained that Hong Kong law allows for companies to exist with only one staff member.

Club representatives who attended the AGM were seated in a socially distanced configuration. (Credit: HKFA)

Members at the meeting eventually voted to approve the applications of the two clubs, as well as those of Premier League club Lee Man, and Third Division clubs Lung Moon and Wofoo Social Enterprises. The chairman affirmed that the HKFA would have “no reservations” about allowing new clubs to apply for voting membership. “As long as they compete in our leagues and contribute to local football, we will allow them to apply,” he said.

R&F, whose application was rejected last September, had inquired about submitting a fresh application this year. However, the club were told that HKFA regulations do not permit a club to apply for voting membership twice within the same year. Pui, however, confirmed that R&F’s eligibility to compete in Asia would remain in tact even without voting membership.

Possible delay to the start of next season

In the months following Tai Po’s decision to withdraw from the Premier League, there had been intermittent rumours about a possible return to the league for the Greens. In fact, on 4 September, former Dreams FC director Leung Chi-kui, who led the effort to broker a deal between Tai Po and an unknown sponsor, went so far as to go on record with his belief that there was a 50-50 chance of a deal. Despite these hopes, Tai Po general secretary Chan Ping told the press on 20 September that no deal was on the table and that the club were planning as if they would spend next season in the First Division.

Pui confirmed to reporters on Tuesday that he was aware of sponsors who were interested in backing the Greens, but the current economic climate precluded that interest from becoming a reality. The chairman stated that the plan is for only nine clubs to compete in the top flight next season.

The start of the season, though, remains in flux despite the HKFA’s planned 24 October start date. At the AGM, representatives from newly promoted Resources Capital sounded the alarm over whether the start date is feasible given the Immigration Department’s delay in processing work visas. Without valid visas, foreigners who are not Hong Kong residents would be refused entry.

Both of Resources Capital’s foreigners – Carles Tena (middle) and Felipe Sá (right) – are believed to be awaiting approval to re-enter Hong Kong. (Credit: Resources Capital)

“Because some of the foreign players have not yet arrived in Hong Kong, and because they will have to quarantine after they arrive, they will not be able to train with the rest of their team,” Pui summarized. “This has led to concerns over sporting integrity because the clubs who participated in the restart will be further along in terms of preparation than the clubs who didn’t. (The HKFA) may adjust the schedule accordingly to accommodate them.”

The chairman stated that the organization would hold a meeting with the clubs on 7 October to discuss the arrangements for the 2020-21 season. He did not rule out the possibility that the start of next season could be pushed back.

Complicating matters is that the government has only granted the HKFA use of its facilities until 11 October, and only for the purposes of the restart. Rangers, Pegasus and Resources Capital – the three teams who are not participating in the restart – have not, as of yet, been given approval to open training camps.

Steven Lo questions salaries of key HKFA staff

Pegasus chairman Steven Lo attended the meeting on behalf of his club and questioned whether high profile staff members at the HKFA would be asked take a pay cut due to the pandemic.

“I’m sure (the HKFA) are aware that English Premier League players and coaches, as well as England national team coaches, have taken pay cuts,” he inquired. “(The HKFA) are also aware that the Hong Kong national team were not likely to play any matches this year. So I ask, why was (head coach Mixu Paatelainen’s) salary not reduced and why wasn’t he asked to return home (so that the HKFA could save on housing allowances)? Other staff who are on high salaries should also see their salaries cut.”

The HKFA responded to Lo’s inquiry by stating that the Board of Directors would review the salaries of all staff. Pui added that the salaries of future high-level positions would be adjusted substantially, including that of the vacant CEO position. The chairman also confirmed that the recruitment process for the next CEO had not begun.

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