The year 2003 will be remembered by the people of Hong Kong as the year we overcame SARS. The fight against this previously unknown disease was a true community effort.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department offered its full support in helping to combat the disease. We temporarily closed three LCSD holiday camps to meet the urgent need for isolation centres, and we stepped up cleansing and maintenance programmes in all our leisure and cultural venues and other facilities.
Our staff also played a significant role in the government's 'Re-launch Hong Kong Campaign' designed to boost morale and encourage a return to normal economic activities after the SARS outbreak. We helped the National Sports Associations in arranging a sell-out series of 14 mega events, including international soccer and basketball, table-tennis and badminton and a snooker challenge. Attendances at the venues broke all previous records. We also opened up many of our sports facilities free of charge to encourage people to participate in sporting activities.
In all these endeavours our staff worked tirelessly, and I would like to give my wholehearted thanks to them for their magnificent efforts.
But there was much more to 2003. It was a year in which we forged new co-operative arrangements in sports and cultural fields; our athletes successfully competed in the 5th National Intercity Games in Hunan winning two gold medals and one bronze.
We signed an agreement with Guangdong and Macau to enhance sports standards and promote the development of a sports culture in the Pearl River Delta. And we won our bid to host the 5th East Asian Games in 2009. Planning is now well under way to stage what we hope will be the best games ever.
The growing image of Hong Kong as an international cultural centre was highlighted during the year with the department being awarded the hosting rights for the 2006 International Society for the Performing Arts Foundation (ISPA) International Congress. The event will allow Hong Kong to showcase to the world the works of local major performing companies, and act as a forum for arts professionals to network with their counterparts in other countries.
Throughout the year, we continued to provide quality cultural facilities and organise activities through a rich and diverse programme featuring international and locally acclaimed artists. Our efforts to promote traditional Cantonese opera as a cultural heritage were rewarded with the formation of a Cantonese Opera Working Group under the Greater Pearl River Delta Conference.
There were further developments in our comprehensive library services. An innovative service was introduced simultaneously with the launch of Hong Kong's new smart ID card, which allows library patrons to use their new cards to borrow, renew and reserve library materials.
We strengthened our co-operation with public libraries outside Hong Kong, signing a Memorandum of Understanding on library development, resource sharing and professional staff training with the Cologne Public Library in Germany. And the cultural link with libraries in the Mainland, especially the greater Pearl River Delta, was also strengthened.
This year, the 'greening of Hong Kong' took on a more colourful image with the emphasis on planting flowering trees, such as bauhinias and cassias, to give a more aesthetic appearance to the landscape. And the department has begun drawing up a register of old and valuable trees to strengthen efforts to preserve and protect them.
Looking ahead, we aim to encourage the staging of more international sports and cultural events in Hong Kong and further improve the governance and operation of cultural services, including libraries, museums and performance facilities. In our various endeavours we plan to involve the community even more to ensure our services continue to meet changing needs and aspirations. Through this partnership, we will work together to improve the delivery of services and provide the best for the people of Hong Kong.
Director of Leisure and Cultural Services