Coca-Cola Sports Awards

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Last updated on 10 Mar 2006

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The Coca Cola HK Sports Stars Awards  (25/2/95)

The invitation comes out of the blues. Karina, an old friend who I haven’t heard from in over a year, wants to know if I “… can escort me to the ninth Coca Cola Awards as a guest of the Softball Association. Derek has something on and it’ll be fun. Lots to drink and a free meal. Oh, it’s casual dress as well”. “O.K. Let me check with Marilena and see if she minds”. She doesn’t. I brainscrub an errant memory from the last time I “escorted” Karina – something about losing my trousers, acquiring a telephone and insulting a taxi remains fuzzily fixed in my memory. Best not dwell on that event! Anyway, I figure the statute of limitations must have expired so – what the hell. It sounds like fun and I don’t want to be thrown out of the Freeloaders Guild for turning down a complimentary scoff. “Yeah, I’ll come”. “Great. I’ll meet you at the Grand Hyatt about 1000 hours…”

I arrive at the afore-mentioned hotel about 1730, dressed for the occasion – blue slacks, blue-white stripe shirt, old Park N’ Shop environmental bag containing my pen, notebook, some music and eight beers (just in case). I’m right on time for the opening cocktail reception. The Event is taking place in a huge alcove to the right of the main entrance. I walk in to find the place rapidly filling up with suits (“Bollocks!”) and no bar in sight (expletive deleted). I have to run the gauntlet of two long press tables flanking the walls. They’re surrounded by captioned pictures of all Hong Kong’s top athletes. My eyes is caught by one mentioning “Tempest Dale”, the Eastern soccer star. Virtually all the photos are of Chinese athletes, but other gwai lohs include Dawn Olsen (squash), Ashley Billington (Rugby) and the H.K. Ladies Netball Team. Waiters are circulating with trays of soft drinks. This does not look good. Better follow one of them when he refills and hope he leads me to a tipple.

The bar is nestled at the very back of the room. At first glance it looks dismal. Nothing but cans of Nescafe coffee (light and dark), Sprite, Coke (of course!) and fizzy juice. “Can I order a vodka tonic?” in a hopeful/pleading sort of voice. “Yes sir”, says the waiter smugly, diving under the trestle table and emerging with a large bottle of Smirnoff. “Better make it two, and hold the lime”. Thus fortified, it’s time to sit down and make some notes, while keeping an eye peeled for Karina. The noise is continuous now. Hordes of screeching voices, split equally among athletes, business people, journalists and pissheads. Dawn Olsen, looking smaller in real life than she does on TV or the newspaper, arrives with her escort. Ashley Billington is there in a quiet blue suit, chatting rugby. The Netball ladies have arrived in black cocktail dresses (drool, drool) and are busy guzzling white wine. TVB sportscaster Andrew Sams, sporting a new spiky punk haircut and glasses, chats with this World Cup mockers Mike Aitken and Howard Wells. Someone important, who looks like a cross between a younger Howard Wells (with greyer hair) and 70’s TV star Jason King, is posing for a grip-n-grin with A de O Sales, the President of H.K.’s Amateur Sports Federation and Olympic Committee. No sign of Karina…

I grab a third v/t from the bar and emerge into a near empty room. My old swimming coach, Betty Mair, bumps into me and says “Good on yer” when I tell her I’m only here for the beer, dear. Suddenly, it’s like an unplugged bath as people drain into the ballroom in search of their tables. Karina has arrived, looking very fetching in slacks and a red top. She apologises for the delay and suggests we find our table. No problem as we trip over it while walking through the door. Our view is like watching the Stones from a front row seat at Shatin while they’re playing live in Happy Valley. Apparently the Softball Association isn’t among the big movers and shakers tonight. Never mind, lat least the menu looks good. There’s Lobster Salad with Truffle Vinaigrette, Beef Consomme with Bone Marrow, Grilled Baby Chicken in Black Bean Sauce with Wok-fried Vegetables and Warm Banana Tart with Walnut Ice Cream. Plus some funky bread rolls (“No Nick. You are not to order Maggi sauce for your bread!”). As the waiters start serving, I notice four gaps on our table. Hmmm…

Lousy techno music emanates from the big TV screen up front along with a ca-choink whoingg sound from the microphones. Could be a speech coming up? I seize this opportunity to freshen up at the bar – two more v/t’s and three Martell and Cokes (well, why not, they’re paying). The rest of the table look amused at my drink intake, but I am nothing if not a professional and I KNOW there’s going to be some speeches tonight with subsequent alcoholic interference – not getting booze as opposed to getting boos! The starters arrive. Yumm! Delicious and the waiters aren’t aware that we’re not a full table. I dispose of mine and help myself to the one on my right. After all, someone’s got to eat them. Up in VIP territory, movement is visible as “Jason King” makes his way front-and-centre. I am about to discover that he is Steve Mason, the Managing Director of Swire Bottlers – our hosts for the evening.

“Good evening, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen… 1994 proved to be a fruitful year for our athletes. We have witnessed their success in various events, in particular the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. The latter, especially was a thrill to the local sports scene when our athletes brought home six silver and seven bronze medals”. (While Steve drones on, I’m pondering who will win Sports Star of the Year. My guesstimate is Ashley Billington who is the ONLY LOCAL WORLD RECORD HOLDER in the room. He scored ten tries – 50 points – when Hong Kong stuffed Singapore 164-13 in last year’s Asian Rugby Tournament. Ashley obliterated the previous world record by 20 points. That’s fairly impressive.) Meanwhile, Steve continues “… achievements of our athletes have reflected in our awards scheme. The nominations for Sports Star Awards and Junior Sports Star Awards reached 42 and 38 entries respectively while nine teams will be competing in the Team of the Year category”. Steve then introduces A de O “Soupy” Sales who will name the Star Athletes.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s right and proper that the community pay tribute to the sports competitors of 1994. Today… (waffle, burble)… all meet with success in years to come”. Mr. Sales spends a lot of time reminding us that at the Beijing Games, the competitors had a “,,, choice of Coca Cola or tea… I’m only sorry the HK competitors didn’t get the same supply of Coke as tonight” (laughter). He mentions the Pepsi alternative so many times, I wonder if he’s getting a retainer. (I’m not!). But he’s not finished yet. He coos that he “… prefers rum and Coke” (and even though) “… HK men drink brandy, I assure you that brandy goes very well with Coke”. (more laughter)

Preamble over, it’s time to cut to the chase. Windsurfer Lee Lai Shan is the 1994 Coca Cola Sports Star of the Year – her third triumph in this annual competition. Seems fair enough. She is the reigning world, European and Asian champion although she didn’t clinch gold at the Asian Games. Lee wins prize money of HK$50,000, two Cathay Pacific round trip tickets to Stockholm(?), a souvenir trophy and one year’s free use of the sports/medical facilities at the HK Sports Institute. She defeated sculler Ho Kim Fai, paddlers Chai Po Wa and Chan Tam Lui, fellow windsurter Wong Tak Sum and wushu expert Leung Yat Ho (household names, one and all, excep tin our manse). No room for Ashley in there. Try and find out why. The six junior stars are Tam Kai Chuen (badminton), Tsang Hau Yuk (rowing), Chiu Wing Yin and Lee Chun Kit (squash), swimmer Robyn Lamsam and tennis player Chan Lee. The Ladies’ Table Tennis Squad scooped up the Team Award.

So, no white faces among the winners. Who does the voting and how is it tabulated? All the victors are greeted with heroic cheers from the front of the room and their respective tables. I’m concentrating on the food. So far, I’ve snagged three starters, three soups, one and a half main courses – hold the dessert. There’s also a waiting doggy box of bones for my ravenous pets. I’m now on my fourth v/t and third Martell/Coke so I’m feeling no pain, but some sardonic humour is starting to surface from my synapses. As Steve admits “… we are here to help promote local sports development and to reinforce cooperation among ourselves”, I’m thinking: “Yeah, right. Tell that to the Judo Associations or HK’s rival cycling teams and what about the recent palaver in the paper about ASFOC not giving a damn about the Sports Development Board and the Dynasty Cup wrangles over more dibs and above all let’s not offend the Chinese … especially as Wei Ji-Zhong, the Secretary-General of China’s Olympic Committee came all the way from Beijing for tonight’s scoff-gabfest”.

I bump into Andrew Sams outside, trying to round up some potential interviewees. We chat, I tell him I used to work at ATV “… covered the 1976 Olympics” and express my opinion that Ashley was unlucky not to have been nominated as “… he’s the only local world record holder in the room”. Andrew scratches his nose pensively, looks at me and quietly says “You’re right. Can I do an interview with you?” “Sure, no problem” (He doesn’t). Back inside, I spot Ashley sitting next to Betty Mair and express my condolences. “I was sure you’d get something, being the only local world record holder here”. “Yeah, we’d been talking about that”, says Betty. “It doesn’t seem right”. I mention hearing the BBC report on the England-Canada rugby international at Twickenham late last year when the commentators referred to Rob Andrew scoring 30 points to equal the world record. Ashley tells me his “… father wrote to Chris Thau” (Rugby World Writer and union official) about this error. He “… sent a letter back acknowledging a mistake was made. They’re setting up a new data base to make sure all information is collated in the future”. Ashley’s quiet and restrained about tonight and doesn’t seem too upset at being snubbed. Before I leave, he signs my notebook.

The evening is drawing to a close. The Ladies’ Netball Team tale, adjacent to ours, has dispersed rapidly in gleeful abandon. They haven’t won anything tonight, but they’ve had a good pissup. Our table is dawdling over the coffee and petit the dessert. The walnut ice cream is really good”). I spot my chance and cautiously lurch forward to VIP Table One. Steve Mason is relaxing alongside Mr. Sales who is next to Wei Ji-Zhong. Also present are Sui Xin-Mei, a gentle, beefy lady with short hair who is the world shot put champion (21 metres in 1990) and Wang Tiang-ling, a slender young man who is the current 3-metre springboard world diving champion. Both of them also sign my notebook, as does Mr. Sales, Steve Mason, David Gledhill, the Chairman of the SDB and Paul Macdonald, a Director of Swire Bottlers. Mr. Macdonald is my target for a quick chat.

“Hi” (shake hands) “I was just wondering about the awards. Why didn’t Ashley Billington get more credit as a world record holder? Paul responds by saying “… the votes were taken in early January. Maybe he wasn’t high enough to get individual recognition”. “But, don’t you think this is an important point “It wasn’t worth mentioning. We can’t choose or arbitrate what awards are given. If we say (one person), we’ve got to mention another”. He doesn’t feel that Ashley has been snubbed. “It’s not an oversight, it’s a random choice. It’s difficult to please everyone. I appreciate your point of view” says Paul (somewhat mendaciously?) “but it’s unfortunate” he concludes. Whatever the rationale, it’s official that a world class performance (actually there were FOUR rugby world records set during that match) was not deemed important enough to acknowledge at this showpiece dinner honouring local sport. Hmmm, still got those eight beers left. Cheers!

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