All is in readiness for next week's opening of the 5th East Asian Games, the first large-scale international, multi-event sporting competition ever hosted by Hong Kong.
The people of the city already are being swept up in the spirit of the games, which will open with a spectacular in Victoria Harbour on December 5 and continue until December 13th.
Director of Leisure and Cultural Services Betty Fung sat down for an exclusive interview with China Daily last week. She said Hong Kong is fully prepared for its role of host city for the big event. During the interview she urged everyone in Hong Kong to catch the spirit of the games, feel the atmosphere, cheer for the local athletes and become participants in the event.
The opening ceremony will be staged at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Piazza on a floating stage set up in Victoria Harbour. The ceremony will feature live performances and to add more color to the event, brightly adorned vessels, decorated in different "themes" will parade nearby.
To top off the evening, spectators will be treated to a spectacular fireworks display.
The production team for the event is the same as the one that ran the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The event's director was the deputy to the internationally-famed director Zhang Yimou, who was director for the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony.
"It will be a bit difficult to perform on a floating stage," Fung said. "But we have fantastic harbor lights as the natural backdrop, complemented by the lighting, the buildings on the waterfront and vessels highlighting the specialties of the participating teams."
The VIPs at the opening ceremony include International Olympics Committee President Jacques Rogge, Chief Executive Donald Tsang and a state leader from the Mainland, she added.
Fung said the reason for holding the opening ceremony at harbour side is that the location provides a large enough venue to allow more citizens to participate.
No more than several tens of thousands of spectators could witness the event if it were held in a stadium, but hundreds of thousands of people can gather on both sides of the harbor to watch the fireworks.
On November 28, there will be a dress rehearsal, with 'athletes and spectators' at different venues at the same time. The purpose is to test contingency, communication and coordination plans.
The EAG this year comprises 22 sport events to be held in 20 venues. Some of the venues are brand-new, while some existing facilities have been upgraded to international standard.
Among the venues is the Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground especially built for the games. Though the tracks were found to be uneven at the beginning, the problem has been rectified by the maintenance contractor.
"The Tseung Kwan O Sport Ground, with a secondary warm-up sports ground, is the first sports ground in Hong Kong that has fully complied with international standard, in part because the other sports grounds have only tracks but are without a secondary warm-up field," she said.
The Tseung Kwan O Sports Ground has a permanent seating capacity of 3,500. Depending on the situation, temporary seats can be added to increase the number of seats to 5,000.
The brand-new HK$22 million BMX Park has also come into use and a number of trial runs have taken place there. "Our BMX cyclists Stephen Wong and Alex Hunter are very happy with this new facility as they can now practice in Hong Kong without going to train in Europe," she enthused.
As Hong Kong athletes have the home ground advantage, she is highly confident they will do well and have good chances of winning medals in some events.
"Hong Kong is fielding more than 400 athletes. Compared with the previous East Asian Games, six new events have been added to the current 5th EAG and they are all events in which Hong Kong is strong.
"They include cycling, as we have cycling prince Wong Kam-po, and windsurfing, as Olympics gold medalist Lee Lai-shan is still here," she said enthusiastically. "Equestrian is also our strong area as the riders have made good progress after the 2008 Olympics, while Hannah Wilson is our great hope in the swimming competitions."
As to ticket sales, tickets are almost sold out for major events and the opening ceremony, with the exception of a few events that do not require admission tickets. They are cycling (road competition), windsurfing and rowing.
"For events like football and rugby, we don't expect to fill the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium during the preliminary rounds," she said. "We hope more spectators will turn up for the semi-final and final matches. The same for the semi-finals and finals of the basketball and volleyball matches that will be played in the Hong Kong Coliseum.", she added.
The enthusiasm of Hong Kong people has been growing slowly, she noted.
"As the EAG draws near and the participating countries/regions have announced the list of athletes, people's interest is beginning to grow deeper, and the inclusion of hurdle king Liu Xian and diving queen Guo Jingjing surely creates a mania," she beamed.
Given the prices of most tickets are set at the affordable levels of HK$50 and HK$100 only, she is very confident that the tickets will sell quite well.
"A deficit is rather unlikely and we may break even," she said.
As she disclosed, the budget for running the EAG is about HK$28 million, on top of HK$1.2 billion for construction of new sports facilities and improvement of existing facilities.
Unlike other large-scale sports competitions, Hong Kong as the host has not built an athletes' village this time.
All participating teams will stay in hotels, with the exception of participants from the DPR Korea, who will stay together in a holiday village together at their request.
Given that the EAG is to be staged at 20 venues, accommodation for the athletes is arranged in venues in close proximity to where the events in which they participate will take place. That will serve to reduce traveling time.
For example, those who take part in the athletic events will stay at a hotel in Tsuen Wan district, while swimming and diving contestants will stay in a Tsimshtsui hotel close to Kowloon Park.
"This means athletes from the same country/region will stay in different hotels. For fans who wish to get close to star athletes or even to sports idols like Liu Xiang and Guo Jingjing, they will have to go to different places," she mused.
On the question of games security, police will be responsible for the protection of VIPs and state leaders, she disclosed. As for athletes in their hotels, their safety is the responsibility of hotel security, and police will assist in maintaining public order.
As for games venues, safety and security checks will be handled by security officers employed by the 2009 East Asian Games (Hong Kong) Ltd. Again, she said police will assist in other areas such as traffic and crowd control because many roads will be blocked during the bicycle road competitions and during the opening ceremony.
Police have indicated that over 1,000 policemen will be on duty on each day of the EAG. On the day of the opening ceremony, more than 3,000 police officers will be mobilized. Overall, the security risk level is considered medium.
(HK Edition 11/27/2009 page4)