Tai Po FC stripped of authority to represent district

Original image by Nick Gowman

After a marathon meeting in which Tai Po FC were likened to Frankenstein’s monster, the Tai Po District Council voted to strip the club of their authority to represent the district.

The problem of salary arrears at Tai Po FC remains unresolved after more than twenty former players opened a case with the Labour Department last month. In response, the Tai Po District Council, which authorizes the club to represent the district, requested representatives from both the club and the Home Affairs Bureau to attend the council meeting held on Tuesday. However, Tai Po FC general secretary Chan Ping informed the secretariat on Tuesday morning that he was unable to attend, whereas the HAB did not respond.

Councillor Max Wu, who sponsored the motion, was disappointed by the lack of response from the club and questioned whether they were trying to evade scrutiny. He stated the club, who were established in 2002, was left unsupervised after it was established, allowing them to act in an unaccountable manner like “Frankenstein’s monster.” Eunice Chan, the president of the Tai Po Sports Association which oversees the team, testified at the meeting that the TPSA does not participate in the day to day operations, but had been “eager to keep an eye on the matter (of salary arrears).”

In the end, the TPDC voted unanimously to revote Tai Po FC’s authorization for the 2020-21 season. This move culminates a dramatic fall from grace for the once proud club who won the inaugural Third District Division league in 2003-04 and were the first district team to reach the top flight, win a major trophy and win the Premier League. Although the Greens will retain the right to compete in the First Division next season, Wu believes that the motion will render Tai Po FC ineligible to receive government funding.

Tai Po FC lacked accountability

According to the HKFA’s Competition Regulations, District Councils have the power to appoint a representative team participate in the league pyramid and to subject this authorization to annual review. However, Wu stated that no proper review of the club’s authorization had been conducted since the club was established in 2002. Instead, authorization was tacitly renewed every year when the club applied for funding from the district.

While DC’s have the power to authorize clubs to represent their district, they do not hold membership within the HKFA. On the other hand, the clubs themselves are members which allows a club such as Yuen Long FC to continue to participate in the First Division next season, in spite of the fact that their authorization was pulled.

Tai Po District Council Member Max Wu. (Credit: Max Wu)

In his opening remarks, Wu seized upon this distinction. “(Tai Po FC) withdrew their funding application this year so that they wouldn’t have to testify before the TPDC and avoid scrutiny,” he alleged, before launching into a passionate tirade against the Greens.

“In 2002, after their establishment was approved by the TPDC, they were able to gain membership into the HFKA. Once they had membership, they acted with impunity and now, their recklessness has made victims out of their players and staff. Besides being owed back pay, the victims are now out of work and some will have to change professions.

“Furthermore, (Tai Po FC) betrayed their fans of their time, their emotional investment and their hard earned money in supporting this club. Needless to say, we all share in their disappointment.”

Wu then commented on the social contract between a district club and their home district, a bond which is the fruit of the government’s District Football Teams Training Scheme.

“We all know of the challenges of running a professional club in Hong Kong and everyone applauds Tai Po FC for their achievements over the years. But as a voting member of the HKFA, have any of their votes led to fundamental changes within the organization? This is an obligation that they owe to their district. No district should be represented by a team that lacks accountability, transparency, and runs away from scrutiny.

“For a title winning club to go from league champions to a club that owes arrears – and will, perhaps, soon declare bankruptcy – this is not something that can be blamed on the pandemic or declining interest in football.”

Councillor Manson Yiu added to the criticism, saying, “The TPDC should stop authorizing these people to do whatever they want in the name of Tai Po.”

Wu: Tai Po FC have become Frankenstein’s monster

In regard to questions about Tai Po FC’s sanction, Eunice Chan testified that the TPDC previously received letters annually from the HKFA, requesting the Council to confirm the team’s authorization. However, TPDC secretariat Terence Lee told Council that the District Office had not received any such letters from the HKFA in recent years.

At issue for several councillors was $1.65 million in funding that the club received annually through the District Football Funding Scheme. Chan attempted to clarify some confusion over the source of the funds, informing councillors that the money was paid by the HAB and could only be used for expenses such as coaching fees, venue rental fees or insurance, and not for player salaries. She stated that from 2016-19, the Greens had met the criteria for funding but cautioned that it was “too early to say” whether the club would receive funding next season if authorization was revoked.

As president of the Tai Po Sports Association, Chan is also the president of Tai Po FC, as per the former’s charter. Although Chan stated that she had no say in the day to day operations of the club, she conceded that she did not know the relevant policies regarding the TPSA’s role within the club.

Home Affairs Department District Officer for Tai Po and Tai Po Sports Association president, Eunice Chan. (Credit: inmediaHK)

These responses were not satisfactory to Wu. “I’ve asked you several times today whether the HAB will continue provide funding to Tai Po FC if we pull their authorization,” he said, rapidly raising his voice. “You can’t even tell us whether they can continue to use ‘Tai Po’ in their name if we pull their authorization.

“Honestly, your attitude today seems to be that no matter what we do as Council, it won’t matter. It doesn’t matter if the club are in arrears or if they enter a dispute with their sponsor (because) the HAB will still fund Tai Po FC and the HKFA will still honour their right to participate in the pyramid. There’s no supervision over the district club scheme.

“After the scheme was established in 2002, they’ve let it grow into a monster and (Tai Po FC) have become Frankenstein’s monster.”

Salacious allegations against HONGDA

Wu revealed at the meeting that an unnamed sports reporter had tipped him to do some research on Tai Po’s main sponsor HONGDA.

“A sports reporter with many years in the business reached out to me through Facebook and asked if I knew about (HONGDA’s) background?,” the fiery councillor claimed, without mentioning the sponsor by name. “Now I ask you, Ms Chan, as a representative of a department that provides Tai Po FC with funding, have you looked into what their sponsor’s background is? Are you aware of how they paid their initial sponsorship fee at the beginning of the season?

“Normally sponsorship fees are transferred by cheque or deposited directly into a club’s bank account, but this sponsor paid their fee in cash – $2 million in cash! That way, there is no record, no paper trail, no nothing!

“Why do you think there is conflict right now between Tai Po FC and their sponsor? It’s because there is no record of the transaction.”

Fellow councillor Dalu Lin corroborated Wu’s explosive allegations, adding that he had heard that the money was funnelled across the border from the mainland. Another member Richard Chan raised suspicions of money laundering, if the allegations were true.

In response to inquiries, a police spokesperson stated that the force did not have any relevant information and welcomed the councillors to come forward with information if they suspected that crimes had been committed.

After over an hour of deliberation, members voted on a motion to strip Tai Po FC’s authority to represent the District for the 2020-21 season. The results were 16 votes in favour, 0 against and 2 abstentions.

16 Council Members vote in favour of the motion. (Credit: Screenshot/區政聯盟大埔及北區工作隊)

Chan Ping responds to vote

Tai Po general secretary Chan Ping responded to the vote by stressing that he did not believe that the motion will affect his club’s ability to compete in the First Division next season.

“I understand that the TPDC no longer authorizes us to represent the District,” he said. “But Wan Chai and Islands have both lost their authorizations in the past and the HKFA still allows them to compete, albeit not as district teams. “

Asked why his club withdrew an application for $800,000 in funding from the Council, Chan claimed, “We submitted an application in May but the TPDC told us that the application was incomplete. We kept in touch with them until June but by then we knew that the funding would not be approved in time, so we decided to withdraw the application.”

The general secretary reaffirmed his club’s desire to compete in the First Division next season but presently, the Greens were focused on clearing their debts. He also claimed that other sponsors had contacted him about potentially helping the club to continue their journey in the Premier League but could not say any more at this time.

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