Curbs on football academy kick off lively debate

Home United Youth Football Academy has been ordered not to use its fields on weekends and weekday nights from 7pm. MP for MacPherson Tin Pei Ling says the restrictions are likely to be "temporary" while stakeholders work out a compromise.
Home United Youth Football Academy has been ordered not to use its fields on weekends and weekday nights from 7pm. MP for MacPherson Tin Pei Ling says the restrictions are likely to be "temporary" while stakeholders work out a compromise.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Calls for tolerance after SLA restricts hours of play following residents' complaints of noise

Restrictions on the two main football pitches at Home United Youth Football Academy (HYFA) in Mattar Road are likely to be "temporary" while stakeholders work out a compromise, said MP for MacPherson Tin Pei Ling.

After complaints of noise from some residents, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) had ordered in mid-last month that the fields not be used during weekends and weekday nights from 7pm.

The move sparked heated discussion on whether the SLA was right to impose such curbs, and how this reflects on the development of Singapore's sports culture.

Around 1,900 people have signed an online petition started four days ago on Change.org to oppose SLA's restrictions.

Among those who spoke up publicly were Mr Jose Raymond, a former senior director at the Singapore Sports Hub. He called the partial suspensions "a slap in the face for the development of sports culture in Singapore".

TIME-OUT

To be fair, residents understand the need for give and take. They are not opposed to sports in the community and are not against HYFA's presence... but they hope for some reprieve, on some nights.

MP TIN PEI LING, who said residents did not have "nimby" (not in my backyard) syndrome. She added that some were forced to change their lifestyle due to the constant noise.

"As a result of this minority, more than 1,000 children will suffer," he said in a Facebook post, referring to the children with football academy JSSL Singapore.

Columnist Neil Humphreys called the incident "astonishing" on football website FourFourTwo last week, pointing out that football can act as a "cultural emollient for disparate groups in society".

Such developments seem to suggest that Singapore focuses on the "first, minor negatives, rather than the overwhelming positives".

"One of the best football facilities in the country was hit with an injunction after a handful of complaints, denying children the opportunity to play," he added, referring to the HYFA facility which was built, after consultation with the authorities, for more than $1 million in 2014. "That's the antithesis of a sports culture."

The Sunday Times understands that SLA is working to reach an "amicable solution" with the relevant agencies and HYFA.

But the facility has lost its main client, JSSL Singapore, whose bottomline has been affected twice by a change of policy by the authorities.

JSSL Singapore managing director Harvey Davis, whose academy has since relocated to The Arena in Woodleigh Park, said: "This doesn't sit well with me, and shouldn't sit well with Singapore as a community... it's damaging for Singapore sports."

About the incident, Ms Tin said residents did not have "nimby" (not in my backyard) syndrome.

"To be fair, residents understand the need for give and take," she added. "They are not opposed to sports in the community and are not against HYFA's presence... but they hope for some reprieve, on some nights."

She said some residents were forced to change their lifestyle because of the constant noise.

In one case, a family with two toddlers left their flat all day and came back late at night on weekends, at the peak of activities last year, as their children could not fall asleep at home.

While four residents spoke up publicly about the matter, 35 households said they were affected by the noise, she said, adding that it was unlikely SLA had imposed restrictions just because of complaints from a few people, and that the residents were not unreasonable.

Some residents of Block 126, such as Mr Alan Hoong, 56, said: "We were subjected to noise pollution for more than half the day."

"We couldn't speak properly at home, and couldn't even watch television," he added, although things improved after the new measures.

However, other residents said they enjoyed having such activities nearby.

"As long as the noise stops by 10pm, it's all right for us," said Madam Tan Suan Mooi, 76, a retiree.

Said retiree Low Chor Young, 67: "Initially, it was really loud. There was a lot of shouting.

"But since they moved the supporters' tents further away, the noise has been bearable.

"We should be more easy-going and not complain unless necessary."

Last May, a group of residents met representatives from government agencies, including the SLA and Urban Redevelopment Authority, plus Home United to discuss ways to resolve the issue.

The football academies compromised by using quieter whistles and moving the supporters' tents.

But these moves did not appear to be enough for the affected residents, who seem to be a minority.

On that point, Mr Darryl David, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Culture, Community and Youth, said: "We shouldn't be focusing on the number of people making the complaint but the nature of it."

"These four people could be raising an issue that more are experiencing.

"I don't think this reflects on the community's attitude towards sporting culture," he added.

While some may argue that heartlanders could be more prone to such incidents, Mr David said it all depends on the urban density of a neighbourhood.

"It reflects that we are getting denser, and the spaces we have are getting more populated," he added.

"We have to try to be more tolerant and understand the needs of a different group."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 22, 2017, with the headline 'Curbs on football academy kick off lively debate'. Print Edition | Subscribe