Tai Po, players reach settlement over unpaid salaries

Tai Po

The club will bear responsibility for April’s salaries as well as half of May’s salaries. Both sides have agreed to join forces and demand the remaining salaries to be paid by HONGDA.

Tai Po have reached a tentative agreement with its players over salary arrears, bringing an end to the impasse which has severely damaged the reputation of the reigning champions. Representatives from both sides, including the club’s general secretary Chan Ping, former head coach Fung Hoi-man, as well as players Felix Luk, Philip To and Sun Ming-him, were all smiles on Wednesday after the conclusion of the second round of mediation at the Labour Department’s Sha Tin offices.

Neither side revealed many details of the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, however, it is believed that a settlement was reached along the lines of Tai Po’s previous offer during the first round of mediation. The club have agreed to bear responsibility for the payment of April’s salaries as well as half of May’s salaries, totaling over a million dollars. The players had previously asked the club to cover all of May’s salaries while the club remained adamant that they would only cover salaries up until the end of April.

During last week’s talks, Chan agreed to pay the remainder of March’s salaries – worth $450,000 – out of his own pocket and to borrow funds in order to pay April’s salaries. It is believed that March’s salaries have already been disbursed whilst April and May’s salaries will be paid within four weeks time. After the club fulfills its obligations, the two sides will work together to seek the remainder of the funds from the club’s main sponsor HONGDA.

According to sources, it is likely that the majority of players will sign onto this agreement. The club are expected to reach out to any foreign players who have left Hong Kong through each player’s respective football association or players’ union.

Both sides hope to avoid lawsuit with sponsor

Following the meeting, Chan insisted that the club were “left holding the bag” as a result of HONGDA’s non-payment of sponsorship fees. Although the club will find temporary solutions to resolve the situation, he refused to rule out legal action in order to recover all outstanding fees.

“We are willing to sit down with representatives from our sponsor to discuss shared responsibility (in paying unpaid salaries) so that the players can put food on the table, but so far, (HONGDA) doesn’t want to talk,” the general secretary said. “Our contract with them states that they’re responsible for paying all salaries until 30 June, however, they’ve breached this agreement. There are legal ramifications at play here. You just can’t walk away from a contract after you’ve signed it.

“We’re victims here, too. Every headline will say ‘Tai Po owe arrears’ but it’s not our fault. I hope that we will get justice in the end.”

Fung (left) brokered an agreement between Chan (right) and the players. Both sides will now set their sights on recovering funds from HONGDA.

Fung concurred with Chan’s sentiments and expressed hope that the situation could be resolved outside of court. “Instead of spending a lot of money fighting this in court, why not just pay the players what they’re owed?” he asked.

The coach stated that the players understood the financial difficulties of the club and thanked the general secretary for his sincerity. On the other hand, he remained steadfast in his belief that the situation could have been resolved sooner with better communication between HONGDA, Tai Po and the players.

“I hope that in the future, these disputes won’t be played out in public because it’s the players who suffer,” he said.

Chan admits lessons learned

Reflecting on the events of the past four months, Chan claimed that it had been stressful for him personally and was happy to put the episode behind him. However, in the same breath, he conceded that he would be more careful in handling contracts in the future in order to better protect the club.

“There are massive systemic problems in Hong Kong football,” he proclaimed. “Clubs cannot survive on their own and must rely on commercial sponsorship. If these sources of funding are unstable, then it will deter other potential investors from stepping in. Of course, if local football was more attractive and entertaining, then we needn’t worry about funding.”

The general secretary reiterated that Tai Po may have a new source of funding for next season, but no agreement had been signed as of yet. He further stated that the Greens’ plans for next season were still undetermined.

Sun Ming-him unlikely to achieve South Korea move

Speaking of Tai Po players, back in April, it was reported that Sun Ming-him would travel to South Korea in August in order to go on trial with several K2 and K3 clubs – a plan which was later confirmed by Fung. However, due to travel restrictions stemming from the pandemic, these plans have been put on hold for the time being.

A report published Wednesday stated that Sun is very close to signing with a Premier League club who are actively assembling their squad for the upcoming season. It is believed that Pegasus are front runners to land the 20-year-old starlet as the Horsemen intend to hire former Tai Po co-head coach Kenneth Kwok as their new gaffer.

Sun may be reunited with Kwok at Pegasus next season. (Credit: Tai Po)

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