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LCQ1: Allocation of swimming lanes of public swimming pools
     Following is a question by the Hon Lam Cheuk-ting and a reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (February 7):


     At present, the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association (HKASA) and its affiliated swimming clubs have a relatively higher priority in booking the swimming lanes of public swimming pools for training on swimming.  After central coordination by HKASA in advance on the various swimming clubs' use of the swimming lanes available for allocation, the swimming clubs submit their applications to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) for booking the swimming lanes.  While commercial organisations have to pay fees from $166 to $350 per hour for renting swimming lanes, HKASA and swimming clubs, being non-profit-making organisations, only have to pay less than fourth of such fees, i.e. at the concessionary rates from $41.5 to $83 per hour.  It has been reported that three swimming clubs which are often allocated the highest numbers of swimming lanes have separately used the swimming lanes rented at concessionary rates for offering training courses on swimming, and they have requested the trainees to deposit the course fees into bank accounts of private companies, arousing suspicion of their reaping profits by exploiting public resources.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it has conducted any follow-up investigation into the report of swimming clubs reaping profits by exploiting public resources; if so, of the details and the outcome; whether LCSD has estimated the total amount of loss of public money in the past three years due to such practice, and whether LCSD will hold the persons-in-charge of the swimming clubs criminally liable and recover from them the rents undercharged for the swimming lanes;

(2) of the measures put in place to curb swimming clubs reaping profits by exploiting public resources; and

(3) whether it will review the existing mechanism for allocation of swimming lanes, including the arrangement whereby HKASA is responsible for coordinating the allocation of swimming lanes, so as to ensure a fair allocation of swimming lanes and prevent swimming lanes from being monopolised by a few swimming clubs, thereby enabling athletes to have more choices in receiving training offered by different swimming clubs and promoting a more healthy development of the sport of swimming?


     Among the 44 public swimming pools under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), the main pools, secondary pools, training pools, teaching pools and diving pools of 42 swimming pools are available for booking by organisations for designated sessions.  LCSD adopts a fair and open mechanism for approving booking application, with the order of priority of allocation to different categories of organisations clearly spelled out.  To take care of and balance the needs of various swimming pool users, not more than a total of four swimming lanes of main pools and secondary pools will be made available for booking by organisations during public sessions.  To promote water sports through a holistic approach, LCSD provides special assistance to the major relevant "national sports associations" (NSAs) and sports clubs (i.e. Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association (HKASA), the Hong Kong Life Saving Society, Hong Kong Triathlon Association, Hong Kong Underwater Association, Hong Kong Paralympic Committee and Sports Association for the Physically Disabled and the New Territories Regional Sports Association) in the hiring of swimming lanes in main pools for long-term development of sport and training.  To coordinate the demand from different NSAs as mentioned above, LCSD has, in consultation with the Community Sports Committee of the Sports Commission, put in place the Central Lane Allocation Scheme (the Scheme) for the booking of swimming lanes in main pools of public swimming pools since 2005.  Under the Scheme, LCSD will first coordinate with the above NSAs on the allocation of number of swimming lanes and sessions, and then the NSAs will coordinate with their affiliated clubs on the use of the allocated sessions through a fair and reasonable mechanism and established procedures.  The affiliated clubs will, in accordance with the coordination by HKASA, submit their applications to the relevant swimming pools for approval.

     The charges for hire of swimming pool facilities fall into three categories of "normal rates", "concessionary rates" and "commercial rates".  "Normal rates" are applicable to charitable organisations, non-profit-making NSAs and their affiliated clubs or other non-profit-making sports promotion organisations. "Concessionary rates", which are half of the "normal rates", are applicable to schools and subvented non-governmental organisations for designated sessions on designated days, and to organisations for persons with disabilities for all sessions.  "Commercial rates", which are around two times the "normal rates", are applicable to organisations outside the above two categories and whose activities are considered as profit-making by LCSD, e.g. applications from commercial organisations and privately run sports clubs.  The "commercial rates" is also applicable if any profit-making activities take place during the hired session.  The "normal rate" for hiring a 50-metre swimming lane is $83 per hour (non-peak seasons) and $166 per hour (peak seasons).  The "commercial rate" is about double of the "normal rate".
My reply to the question raised is as follows:

     LCSD is deeply concerned about the allegation that individual swimming associations, which have been accorded with priority in the allocation of swimming lanes under the coordination and recommendation of HKASA and charged at "normal rates" in capacity of non-profit-making organisations, organised swimming classes and instructed the trainees to deposit the course fees into private bank accounts for profit-making.  LCSD is taking this matter very seriously and is working on various fronts to follow up on the allegation.  LCSD has requested HKASA to provide detailed information in response to the above allegation.  At the same time, LCSD has written to the three swimming clubs concerned and request for detailed information to facilitate the follow up by LCSD.

     Under the current mechanism, LCSD provides special assistance to the major water sports related NSAs and their affiliated clubs to enjoy priority use of swimming lanes in main pools so as to enable the eligible swimming associations to provide sustainable and stable training and promote long-term sports development.   Organisations which enjoy priority use of swimming lanes must be non-profit-making in nature.  All proceeds from the training classes must only be spent for the purpose of the same activity.  Any surplus generated from these classes can only be used by the same organisation for development of the sport.  Income or surplus from these activities are not allowed to be directly or indirectly channelled to any person, any member of the organisation or other organisations.  It is a breach of the conditions of use of facilities for any organisation to transfer any booked sessions of swimming lanes to other organisations.  LCSD will follow-up and investigate any suspected cases.

     The Scheme has been implemented for many years and is gradually delivering results.  Swimming, triathlon and disabled athletes have attained remarkable achievements in recent years and some former trainees of the training courses organised by the above NSAs have even become elite athletes, demonstrating the success of the Scheme in promoting sports development and that it is worth retaining.  In fact, the percentage of swimming lanes allocated to the above-mentioned six NSAs under the Scheme (taking 2016-17 as an example) only accounted for 16 per cent of the total number of 50-metre swimming lanes available for booking.  Hence, there is still room outside the Scheme for individual swimming associations or organisations to hire swimming lanes of LCSD's swimming pools under established procedures. 

     To address public concerns, LCSD will suspend allocating sessions of swimming lanes to HKASA for the second half of the year until the submission of detailed information and explanation by HKASA and the affiliated clubs involved has been received.  At the same time, LCSD will re-examine, in consultation with the relevant NSAs and major users, the Scheme, the Booking Procedure for Public Swimming Pools, the Terms and Conditions of Hire of LCSD's Public Swimming Pools, the implementation of the penalty system for booking/use of public swimming pools and the relevant management guidelines, etc., so as to ensure the effective use of the booked sessions of swimming lanes. Thank you President.
Ends/Wednesday, February 7, 2018
Issued at HKT 12:47
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