Closing Plenary

Sports and Cities: 'How can we use sports to improve well-being and achieve social good in cities?'


  • Winfried ENGELBRECHT-BRESGES Chief Executive Officer, The Hong Kong Jockey Club
  • Philip MOK President, Hong Kong Tennis Association
  • Michael PHELPS President, Michael Phelps Foundation
  • Matthew SPACIE Founder, Magic Bus
  • YAO Ming Founder, The Yao Foundation


  • Carol YU Producer and Host, Phoenix TV

The closing plenary began with a huge round of applause as the speakers took their seats on stage. Ms Carol Yu initiated the discussion by inviting them to talk about their philanthropic work. Mr Yao Ming described how he established his foundation shortly after the Beijing 2008 Olympics, having been moved by the Sichuan earthquake a few months earlier. Its purpose was to raise money for schools and as a next step, promote sports in schools and create a learning network. Beginning with 45 schools, the foundation now supported over 500 schools, with 90,000 students having gone through the programme. He believed in sports leading to a healthy lifestyle but more especially, for children orphaned during the Sichuan earthquake, the programme helped them preserve good memories of their childhood through sports.

Mr Matthew Spacie’s story was that he landed in Mumbai, India, 25 years ago with no intention of staying for long. What struck him was that Mumbai had 25 million people of whom half lived on the streets or in otherwise appalling conditions. He also very strongly perceived the societal-racial divides in the country. Being an ardent rugby player and fan, he decided to start a rugby club for Mumbai’s street boys right outside the elite rugby club (Bombay Gymkhana) for which he played. What fascinated him was that once he brought his street boys’ club to compete with his own team, the lines of divide were blurred and they were treated as equals on the field. This largely shaped his next course of action. He used to rent a bus and take children from the slums to play sports. This gave birth to ‘Magic Bus’ as it is today. Over time, young people who had started this journey were now ‘heroes’ for mentoring others. Mr Spacie believed that any efforts towards social mobility needed to have a backbone of livelihood provision. Magic Bus had therefore now created a novel curriculum that used sports to educate and train youth, and it was heartening to see that 80% of them had now secured jobs.

Mr Philip Mok, representing the HK Tennis Association, said the Association strove to enhance the social well-being of Hong Kong youth. To date, it had helped about 3,500 young people from disadvantaged backgrounds become more engaged and socially mobile.

Mr Michael Phelps said his foundation had started 10 years ago after his stellar success at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. He had now officially retired from competitive swimming and focused his entire time on the foundation, which aimed to teach children to swim. Drowning, he noted, was the second largest cause of death for children under the age 14 in the US, so he was working on solving this issue. However, the key gains of his efforts were seeing young children overcome fears, doubts and obstacles as a result of the self-confidence they had gained through swimming.

Mr Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges explained how the HKJC had a strong legacy of organising world-class racing events. Through the Charities Trust, it funded and executed programmes that helped people grow. Being a keen sportsman himself, he believed in continuous self-improvement and motivation. This was why sport was a key strategic area for the HKJC.

Ms Yu asked the panel about their life journeys as children active in sports. Mr Phelps said he used to play 4-5 sports and being a child with ADHD, this kept him active and brought happiness. His coach had been a strong driving force. Sharp and determined goal-setting, coupled with mental energy, allowed him to win gold medals at the Olympics. Mr Yao talked about how playing sports had taught him to make sacrifices and be dedicated. Mr Spacie said he always found sports to be a dissolver of societal differences, and that had kept him driven. He shared success stories of how engagement in sports had helped Indian girls stay in school for more years, and in some communities delayed the risk of their marrying at under 18.

The discussion then moved on to how Hong Kong society could better promote sports. Mr Engelbrecht-Bresges noted that for sports to attract popularity, the process had to be fun. HK schools still followed a traditional approach to teaching sports, he noted. In a paradigm shift, they were now adopting a curriculum devised by Manchester United and seeking more international role models to provide inspiration. He emphasised the value of role models in sports and encouraged all budding sportspeople to be more proactive about giving back to the society. Mr Spacie opined that youth should be protected against unhealthy competition, which could have a life-long impact on their socio-emotional health.

Lastly, the panellists shared their life lessons from sports. Mr Yao said he had learned to be patient, empathetic and forgiving. Mr Phelps said he had learned the value of goal-setting as a ladder to achieve the ultimate pinnacle in one’s life. Mr Engelbrecht-Bresges observed that HK as well as broader society needed more activity at community level to tackle the difficult challenges it was facing today. Along with others, he saw sports as a promising platform for creating a better community.

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