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Unnecessary fees for public sports facilities and the stifling of grassroots soccer in Singapore

by Ravi Philemon

My colleague at Red Dot United, Mohamed Fazli Bin Talip, recently raised a very good point about the “hidden hand of the Government” in stifling the growth of soccer in Singapore. A recent news article in The Straits Times (ST), discussing the futsal pitch fees at The Arena @ Keat Hong in Choa Chu Kang, serves to show how his analysis is on mark.

It is important to ensure that facilities built with public funds should be accessible to the public without additional costs. This would foster the growth of grassroots soccer.

The ST article highlighted the disappointment among Choa Chu Kang residents regarding the high fees associated with utilising the futsal pitch.

However, the underlying issue is the town council’s influence on limiting public access to sports facilities. Facilities constructed with public funds should be made readily available to the public without imposing undue financial burdens, thus ensuring equal opportunities for community members to engage in sports activities.

Implementing a transparent and efficient reservation system, along with establishing priority scheduling for different user groups such as students, can be preferred methods to encourage accountability and proper use of sports facilities.

By utilising these mechanisms, the focus shifts from relying solely on monetary transactions to ensure fair usage. It recognises that fairness is not solely determined by financial means but by providing equal opportunities for all members of the community, including students who may find even nominal fees of S$5 or S$10 to be burdensome.

This is an approach I will recommend as it promotes inclusivity and ensures that grassroots soccer can develop by making the facilities accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial constraints.

It underscores the importance of creating an environment where participation is not limited by economic factors and emphasises the broader societal benefits that arise from fostering a culture of equal access and opportunities in sports.

I am disappointed that Choa Chu Kang Town Council is asking its residents to fork out at least S$130 to play on its new futsal pitch (S$100 of this amount is a refundable deposit). The young residents in the constituency said that they are now charged to play street soccer on the pitch when previously, before it was renovated, they played football for free at the street soccer court.

Increasing costs for the people immediately after renovations seem to be the modus operandi of the Government, and it seems to apply not just to futsal courts but everything, including hawker centres. The Zaobao reported two years ago that hawker centre stalls’ rental in Admiralty went up 50% after renovations.

I am particularly disappointed since one of the Members of Parliament for Chua Chu Kang GRC is Low Yen Ling, who is a Minister of State for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth – MCCY.

Barely three years ago, MCCY declared that “Goal 2034” is a national project. In March 2020, MCCY said: “It wants all Singaporeans who enjoy football – to jointly own and support Goal 2034, and work toward this vision together as a national project.”

How is restricting the development of grassroots soccer, especially among students, helpful to the attainment of Goal 2034?

It seems like MCCY is only paying lip service to grassroots soccer development. Grassroots soccer development is important to nurture talent and to foster community participation.

By imposing unnecessary fees on public sports facilities, the government and its related agencies inadvertently hinder the growth of grassroots soccer, which plays a vital role in uniting communities, instilling values, and contributing to national development 0 and ultimately to Goal 2034.

The government should prioritise investing in sports infrastructure and ensuring public accessibility without financial barriers. By making such facilities freely accessible to the public, the government can encourage widespread participation, identify, and nurture talent, and facilitate the overall growth of sports in the community.

Recognising the importance of public funding and the potential benefits of unrestricted access, I urge the government, the respective town councils, and its related agencies to reevaluate their approach.

Yes, facilities funded by public funds should be regarded as valuable assets, but there are other ways to be faithful stewards of public properties instead of using only monetary means to encourage responsible usage.

By adopting a policy of freer access, the government can create an inclusive and vibrant sports culture that allows grassroots soccer to thrive and bolsters community engagement.

This will shape the future landscape of sports development, particularly grassroots soccer, in the community and pave the way for Goal 2034.

This post was first published on Mr Ravi Philemon’s Facebook page. Mr Philemon is the Secretary-General of Red Dot United, a political party in Singapore.

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