The lack of public spaces is a huge stumbling block in our pursuit of sporting excellence
THE rapid development of Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding areas over the last 20 years has not come without severe repercussions, and the biggest victim is the environment.
From deadly landslides to serious flash floods, there has been a price to pay for this rapid development.
Also caught up in this problem are football fields and playgrounds.
Just look around on your next drive through the city and you will notice that football fields and playgrounds have vanished.
When was the last time you saw youngsters kicking a football on a public field? If at all, it’s very rare.
Granted, once in a while I do see some teams kicking a ball at the GHKL football pitch, but as I said, it has become a rare sight.
Take, for example, my old neighbourhood Sentul.
The football field, which belonged to and was maintained by the Malayan Railways, had in the past played host to some great football matches. Legends such as Datuk Soh Chin Aun, Datuk M. Chandran and Datuk Santokh Singh and many more like them, whether they represented MCIS, PKNS or any other team, had all played league matches on this field, which also witnessed the emergence of many homegrown stars of the future.
Today, the field is no longer there.
Sadly, there isn’t a single public football ground in Sentul today.
Where there used to be fields and playgrounds, you will now find hideous residential and commercial high-rises.
Sentul, I am sure, is not the only district to suffer from this atrocious “development.” Lots of other areas in and around Kuala Lumpur have had the same fate.
This scenario begs the question – where can youngsters go these days to kick around a football?
Indoor futsal courts? Yes, if they can afford it because it costs between RM70 and RM100 to book a single court for an hour.
Even if all chipped in, it could still prove to be an expensive outing for the youngsters.
So how do you expect to churn out good footballers, track athletes, hockey players and rugby players if all fields are being gazetted for development?
How do you expect to build a healthy society when there is a severe lack of playing fields and playgrounds?
Just take a drive around Brickfields and look at the DBKL Sports Complex football pitch, which has not been maintained for the longest time. To think that not so long ago, the Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Cup team used to train there.
Now all we see are stray dogs all over the field which used to be the pride of Kuala Lumpur City Hall.
Nowadays, it is no surprise to see school teams at district and even state-level tournaments playing on uneven fields in muddy conditions, where the ball is unable move smoothly in any direction.
Sadly, this is the time when sports officials are supposed to scout for the next generation of footballers, hockey players, cricketers and so on.
But in these conditions, it is an almost impossible task.
Even if it’s just social football, organisers and enthusiasts alike tend to use synthetic pitches despite the higher cost, because of its flat surface and good drainage that allow matches to be played under any weather.
These astro turf pitches like the ones at The New Camp (Bandar Utama), KLFA (Taman Melati), NPNG (Sungai Buloh), MPSJ Stadium (Subang Jaya) and Matshushita Stadium (Shah Alam) are all privately owned and can cost about RM500 for 90 minutes.
Instead of building shopping centres and entertainment outlets in the same vicinity, developers should build proper fields which can be used by everyone, especially youngsters who wish to develop their playing skills without potholes and puddles of water.
By all means build condominiums if you must, but ensure a field is included in the blueprint.
Residents of Bandar Tun Razak were recently up in arms over a decision by DBKL to sell their one and only football field to a developer who wanted to build a 41-storey apartment block on the site.
This is a fine example of the authorities putting profit before playing fields for the rakyat.
With each passing week, more and more playing fields, playgrounds and outdoor gyms are being taken over or sold to private companies.
Millions in taxpayers’ money have been used to build food courts and public facilities but in a few cases, it has been a waste of good money as some food courts hardly attract people and many public facilities are not functioning.
It’s high time the authorities gave some serious thought to maintaining the very few existing football fields and playing grounds in and around the city.
They must also build new fields which the public has easy access to.
We do not need a working paper or a national-level meeting to thrash out this matter.
All that is needed is goodwill, common sense and co-operation between the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry and developers, as it is part of their responsibility to contribute towards the growth of sports in the country.
While money is important to survive, youngsters should not be deprived of their basic rights to kick a football around on a field for free.
If the authorities genuinely have the well-being of the rakyat at heart, they will eventually do what is right, and do it right the first time.
Let us not destroy what little we have.
Christopher Raj is chief executive officer of ShekhinahPR, a sports public relations agency. Chris’ Twitter account is @chrisraj23