Mattar Road Football Ban – Wrong Thing To Do

Here in Anchorvale, Seng Kang, every evening girls and boys would take to the playgrounds and basketball courts to play. And when they do, you are reminded of how space is such a precious thing here in crowded Singapore.
This is especially so over at the cement court, where the two sports of basketball and football clash as boys (and some girls, at times) jostle for space. They have to because there isn’t any open field in the immediate surroundings which they can use. 
Thankfully, there have been no altercations or quarrels so far among the kids and teenagers. 
This space constrain is quite different from just a few years ago, where there were fewer construction sites and HDB blocks gobbling up land areas. Children then had some space to run and be free. Now, however, you can hardly find any open fields here. 
This is the state of affairs all across the island, save for a few lucky corners. 
And so it was disheartening to read the news of two 11-a-side football pitches at Mattar Road being shut down as well. No longer will the children who used the pitches there have access to them. 
The pitches belong to the Home United Youth Football Academy (HYFA), but are managed by Asia Sports Holdings since July 2015.
The lease for the facilities run till 2019. 
The shut-down of the two pitches came after some residents at the nearby HDB flats complained to the authorities that the kids were making too much noise when they played and trained there. So, the decree came down from above – ie, from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA): football activities are banned at two of the 12 pitches on weekends and after 7pm on weekdays. The two pitches are the closest to the HDB blocks in the area. Hence, the complaints from residents living there. 
What has dismayed sports and football lovers, in particular, is how the SLA imposed the ban without warning and how it acted even though the complainants numbered a mere five residents. 
The football pitches there are used by about 1,200 children, many of whom train with clubs and football academies. 
The biggest user of the pitches is JSSL Singapore, a local football academy. 
Its managing director, Harvey Davies, told the press that the academy forked out $20,000 a month in rental to use the pitches and facilities. 
Mr Davies said he was informed in the middle of December to stop all activities at the two pitches immediately.
“This is a disgrace,” he said. “Complete disregard for the 1,200 kids who use the fields, disregard for the business we are running. And all of this for what? Complaints by four, maybe five people?”
It is indeed hard to disagree with Mr Davies or to fault his indignation at how the authorities handled the matter. 
You don’t demand or worse, impose an order from above with immediate effect when it will adversely affect a business, and especially one which caters with children. Mr Davies revealed that since the ban, some of the children in his academy have left because he has had to find new venues for them to train but these were inconvenient for the children.
At the same time, however, should we also be sympathetic to the HDB residents who lodged the complaints, even if they numbered only five? 
I think it boils down to two things: one, urban planning in land starved, crowded Singapore; and two, understanding and accommodating each other when we can.
On the first point, it behoves the town planners to seriously consider open spaces as an integral part of living in Singapore. Yes, we have a shortage of land area, but does this mean we cannot afford to leave some open spaces alone so our kids, and us adults, can roam and play free? 
For example, can we cut down the number of shopping malls in an estate, and allow the land to be used for sports or recreation activities instead? Not everything should be about economics or milking economic benefits to the maximum. 
It is a little sad to see children having to play football in tiny futsal cages, when they should be running free in an open field. 
On the second point about understanding and accommodating each other, it is good that the residents’ complaints, however trivial we may think they are, are taken seriously by the authorities, who must weigh and decide if they are valid.
In this case, however, one feels that the SLA had acted compulsively, without proper consultation and deeper consideration for the children and businesses involved, and the measures the HYFA had taken to ameliorate the concerns of the residents. 
Banning footballing activities on entire weekends does seem excessive and an over-reaction. 
The state of Singapore football is in the doldrums, with our national team ranked 165th in the world. It has fallen to such depths for the past two decades, with no salvation in sight. 
If we also at the same time ban football activities without proper and serious consideration, we may end up with what would be a tragic end – the complete demise of football in Singapore, a sport which once rode so high in the public’s conscience. 
If we are to revive – or resuscitate - our football fortunes, further curbing the already scarce spaces we have for the sport is entirely the wrong thing to do. 

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