Public football fields disappearing in Malaysian city

One by one, public football fields in Malaysia's Johor Baharu city "are being taken over for development projects much to the chagrin of its sports-loving residents," Mohd Haikal Mohd Isa reported for state news agency Bernama. The latest is the popular Public Works Department field in Jalan Kebun Teh, which is slated to be turned into the multi-million ringgit Kebun Teh Commercial Centre. "What has happened?," asked Johor Baharu Umno Youth chief Khalid Mohamad. "While we are all trying to improve the level of national football, which is plunging deep into the wilderness, the remaining football fields in Johor Baharu are falling victim to developers one by one," he told Bernama. More saddening was that the project on the PWD field was a privatisation project of the state government, he said.

At one time, he said, the city had four big public football fields -- in Pasir Pelangi, Jalan Larkin, Jalan Kebun Teh and Sri Gelam. Now, the Sri Gelam field was the only one left after the rest were swallowed for commercial development, he said. "The impact has long been felt by Johor Baharu and Johor state. Johor, which emerged Malaysia Cup champions in 1985 and 1991, now no longer has the ability to return to its past glory," Khalid said. Efforts to produce football greats like Dollah Salleh, Khalid Shahdan, Azuan Zain, Salehan Mat Som, Salleh Mohd Noor, Kamaruddin Ahmad and Hassan Miskam of the past, had been exercises in futility, he added.

A Johor Baharu Football Association official, Zairul Albar Abu Bakar, said the lack of football fields in the city was very frustrating and it had adversely affected the association's efforts to develop the sport among youths. "How are we to scout for new talents among youths if we only have one public football field in Sri Gelam. We can just forget football in Malaysia," he said. Meanwhile, the FA of Johor Executive Secretary Wan Nizam Wan Omar said the association was aware of the lack of football fields in the city but it did not have allocations for fields and had to rely on the local authorities to provide them. "We have to admit that Johor is facing a shortage of areas to build football fields. In Johor Baharu there is only the Sri Gelam field," he said.