By Bilal Afsar
As an athlete and a Sport Science student from CUHK, I dream of wearing a Hong Kong sports jersey. Pursuing an athlete's life in Hong Kong is extremely challenging and it is even harder for an ethnic minority to pursue a sports career in Hong Kong.
Firstly, many Ethnic Minorities (EMs) do not receive quality career planning education in Hong Kong. When I was in secondary school, teachers had low or zero expectations from me and my EM classmates. The bar is set so low that teachers expect us to enroll in a foundation diploma or sub degree programme, rather than an undergraduate programme. Even though some of us aspire to be an athlete and show great interest and talent in sports, we are not given sufficient knowledge and resources, such as how to pursue a sports career in Hong Kong, the availability of the sports courses and institutions, medium of instruction of the sports courses, etc. Choosing to be an athlete is not a “normal” path, low expectations from the educators and lack of essential information can hinder the planning of a gifted youth’s future on this unique career path.
Secondly, outstanding academic grades in the public exams will grant a spot in one of the desired sports related subjects, yet, the language barrier is always a major obstacle. Most of the sport related subjects are taught in Cantonese, be them undergraduate studies, associate degrees, and higher diploma sports courses. Although the medium of instruction is said to be English, most of the lessons are conducted in Cantonese. It may be “impossible” for an EM athlete or student to study and pursue a sports career if they don’t understand Cantonese. EMs, lamentably, are the victims of the poorly established Chinese curriculum for second language learners which fails to merge their language ability to local level, even though they are born and bred in Hong Kong. Therefore, the last option for EM athletes is to make a living through coaching jobs. The language barriers may appear again as most of the coaching classes are conducted in Chinese and it is a challenge to get enrolled into the classes. A perfect example is the track and field certificate course which opens on a yearly basis. I have failed to register for 2 consecutive years without any explanation.
Thirdly, EM athletes face real challenges once they step into the world of adulting after graduating. Family and work have high expectations from them which put them under immense pressure. EM athletes either can be a coach or a full time athlete after graduation. Nonetheless, this is a dilemma: you can almost never gain a certificate due to language barrier, or choose to chase your athlete dream by bearing the fierce backfire from family. For EMs who have a bigger family size, the mental and financial burden of supporting the family expenses is unimaginable. There is barely any support or encouragement from family members to pursue sports as a career, as they think there is no future and stable income. And maybe, ‘playing sports’ was not introduced to this community in their hometown through parenting and schooling.
It is a pleasure to hear the applause from the local Chinese crowd when I run in competitions, and it is rewarding to share the stage with locals. The language barrier and the systematic problem in the local sport industry have always kept highly talented and motivated EM athletes away from contributing to Hong Kong. Before it’s too late to shine and display our uniqueness and talents, teachers should uplift our capabilities, institutions in Hong Kong should establish courses that are not just taught in Cantonese, and upscale the number of courses that are open for ethnic minorities. I strongly believe that talented EM athletes deserve equal opportunity to represent our multicultural city with pride.
The author is a brilliant awardee of Unison's Ethnic Minority Tertiary Scholarship, as well as an elite athlete in Hong Kong.