By Amal Al-Sibai
Jeddah residents are losing hope that their wishes for better neighborhood parks and proper soccer fields will ever be met. Decades ago when the city’s plans were being drawn, each neighborhood was allocated plots of land to be reserved for a children’s playground and soccer field.
Today, the parks in many of Jeddah’s residential districts are barren lands of sand, discarded construction material, garbage and a sanctuary for stray cats. Abandoned by the municipality, children’s playgrounds are either non-existent or so ill-maintained and broken down that they have become unsafe. The soccer fields in Al-Mushrifa and Aziziyah districts look like wastelands, lack proper goals, are not surrounded by fences of any sort and are only separated from the streets by deteriorated pavements.
However, due to an unbridled passion for soccer but with no better and affordable alternative places to play, young men come out in large numbers every day to play soccer at these grounds, engulfed by swirls of sand and dust that rise from their game-playing. They play without fail and withstand injuries that occur as a result of the poor conditions of the ground and they are not hampered by the respiratory problems that are caused by inhaling dust particles. These young men assert that the promises made by the elected municipal officials to provide neighborhood soccer fields were merely ink on paper and that they have not witnessed any improvements in their community’s public parks.
“Where are the promises made to us during the municipal council’s elections? We have been playing soccer on the streets for years, and finally, we were promised grass soccer fields, sports centers, and children’s playgrounds but these promises have not been met,” said one disappointed resident, Majed Majarshi.
Turki Al-Saruri said, “There are exemplary soccer fields and parks in most neighborhoods in Riyadh and Dammam. We wish that the city officials in Jeddah would show equal concern for our neighborhoods and take the necessary steps to provide us with acceptable public parks and sports fields.”
A resident of Ghulail District, Khaleel Anwar, said: “We suffer from the irregular (and uneven) ground on the soccer field, and the large rocks randomly dispersed here and there can be harmful. We urge the municipality to remove the waste, plant the soccer fields with grass, and look after its maintenance because we love the game and we cannot imagine life without playing soccer.”
Abdulrahman Al-Nashri said: “The empty lands owned by the municipality in each neighborhood should be turned into proper soccer fields, basketball courts and running grounds. A few months ago during the elections of municipality council members, I recall how excited my friends and I were about the promises being made to the youth regarding the community services that the new members planned to provide us with. It seems like these promises have been forgotten.”
“The soccer field in our neighborhood is a disgrace. We have to improvise in order to make boundaries on the field and to implement the soccer game rules. We use large rocks and cement blocks to make a goal and we just have to estimate the distances. The number of team players has dwindled over the years and many are afraid to play in such poor conditions. The appalling state of our neighborhood fields has driven the youth away from sports which are healthy activities, and has led them to bad habits like driving around aimlessly in their cars or wasting time sitting idly in coffee shops and Internet cafés,” said Fahd Salim.
More young men are demanding that the Jeddah municipality should get its act together and offer more youth centers, fitness centers and safe recreational areas in every neighborhood.
The chairman of the Jeddah Municipal Council, Ayman Fadil, told Okaz: “The municipal council intends to adhere to all the promises made to Jeddah’s youth and is keen on improving the communities’ public facilities. For a significant period of time, Jeddah is and will be going through an extensive revamping and overhauling of its Corniche, residential areas and neighborhood parks to reflect the appearance of a modern and developed city. It is the youth’s legitimate right to demand proper sports areas and we hope to meet their demands.”