The design proposal for a multi-purpose indoor arena on the former Kai Tak airport site would deny thousands of fans access to high-profile events, said Hong Kong Badminton Association chairman Tong Wai-lun on Monday.
Although the government's new facility could accommodate up to seven courts, it would seat just 4,000 fans, 1,600 less than the Hong Kong Coliseum, which is the existing principal venue for top events such as the annual international Badminton Superseries. Even though the Coliseum can host up to 12,000 for sports such as volleyball, which requires one court, that drops to just 5,600 for big badminton tournaments that need multiple courts.
The Coliseum has room for only four competition badminton courts, which has been deemed inadequate by the sport's world governing body.
Tong said he felt let down. "We need an indoor venue of at least 6,000 seats to host international events and had specified this on the record of our request," said Tong, who is also a member of the government's advisory arm - the Sports Commission.
"We have high hopes for the new facility. It should be able to provide more space, so we can consider staging bigger events such as the Sudirman Cup, which comprise five levels of competition and cannot be held in any existing venue in Hong Kong.
"We are now providing 5,600 seats for the Hong Kong Open [November 19 to 24] at the Coliseum in Hung Hom, and it is hardly believable a new venue will provide less. If we want to stage world-class events, a venue of 4,000 seats is not adequate."
"The World Badminton Federation wants us to use five courts simultaneously to avoid match backlogs, especially in the opening stages of a tournament when we sometimes have to play until very late at night. Because of limited space at the Coliseum, we cannot expand the number of courts," he said. "We understand the new indoor venue will have a much bigger area where we can set up seven courts in a row, which fits our needs for hosting top-class events. But if there are only 4,000 seats, we don't think we will host any international event because we also have to consider loss of income through fewer ticket sales."
Tong said he understood the new venue was still in the planning stage as it was scheduled to open in 2019. "We sincerely hope the government will consider our needs. We don't think it will cost a lot more money to expand the venue to 6,000," he said.
This year's Yonex-Sunrise Hong Kong Open, part of the Superseries, meanwhile, has attracted a quality field of 300 players from 23 nations and regions as they vie for total prize money of HK$2.73 million. The top 10 players in both the men's and women's singles, headed by Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia and Li Xuerui of China, are to compete, as well as the London Games men's doubles champions - Fu Haifeng and Cai Yun of China, and mixed doubles gold medallists Zhang Nan and Zhao Yunlei, also from the mainland.
Hong Kong will field 40 players, headed by Hu Yun, the world number 10 in the men's singles and Yip Pui-yin in the women's singles. Lee Chun-hei and Chau Hoi-wah, mixed doubles champions at this year's US Open and Canada Open, are also eager to get to grips with the world's best doubles players at the Coliseum.
"Our men's players lack regular training recently due to the hectic competition schedule, including the National Games, the East Asian Games, followed by two Superseries - the French Open and the Denmark Open," said coach Liu Zhiheng. "They are hoping for a speedy recovery so they can give something for the home crowds to cheer."