The Hong Kong Sports Institute (HKSI) have rolled out a new education programme allowing youngsters there to become full-time athletes in a bid to increase their medal prospects at future major Games.
The organisation has signed a partnership deal with the English Schools Foundation, giving students from three schools in the region - King George V School, Sha Tin College and Renaissance College - the opportunity to study alongside becoming a full-time athlete.
It is claimed the scheme will enhance Hong Kong’s chances of securing more medals on the international scene, and the HKSI hope to attract around 40 athletes who will compete on a full-time basis.
“Having full-time athletes is really important,” HKSI chief executive Trisha Leahy said.
“All the gold and silver medals at last year's Asian Games were won by full-time athletes.
“So imagine what would happen if we had 500 full-time athletes instead of the current 280.
“We could significantly increase the return on the government's investment in elite sport.”
The agreement provides an extension to the Elite Athlete Friendly School network (EAFN) launched last year and which allows students in secondary and tertiary educational institutions to be part-time athletes, fitting studying around training and competition.
Students on the new programme will benefit from reduced tuition fees, hostel facilities, a monthly grant, transport to and from school to the HKSI and enhanced teaching services, and Leahy feels it could be a crucial initiative for the development of sport in Hong Kong.
“This is a breakthrough development as one of the key barriers to having a critical mass of 500 full-time athletes is the requirement for full-time secondary school,” she said.
“This tailor-made programme can help young athletes - and reassure parents - to take the leap into becoming full-time high-performance athletes.
“The new scheme is solely for full-time athletes while the other one (EAFN) is for part-time athletes.”
“We expect 15 to 20 students to join from the three ESF schools and a similar number from Lam Tai Fai and gradually build up each year.”
Athletes from the HKSI claimed 40 of the 42 medals won by Hong Kong at last year’s Asian Games in Incheon after the Government launched Elite Athletes Development Fund with a one-off investment of HK$7 billion (£581 million/$902 million/€811 million).
Hong Kong has won three medals since making their debut in the Olympics at Helsinki in 1952.
Lee Lai Shan won a gold medal in the women's sailboard at Atlanta 1996, table tennis players Ko Lai Chak and Li Ching claimed a silver in the men's doubles at Athens 2004 and cyclist Lee Wai Sze a bronze in the women's keirin at London 2012.