Villaflor: A beloved football field says goodbye

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Monday, July 28, 2014


MY HEART sank when I learned that the Aboitiz Sports Field has finally ceased operations. Though this development was no secret – this prime piece of commercial property was bound to be used for something else – reading about the closure felt as if a good acquaintance has departed, expected but abrupt, nevertheless.

“Aboitiz Sports Field has closed down. To all those who came and played, we thank you for your support and patronage,” said the facility’s page on the AboitizLand website. Why? It turns out the property where the field sits will be developed as part of a 15-hectare mixed-used district.

Through its brief existence of less than six years, the Aboitiz Sports Field has made many Cebuano footballers happy, not just a place to practice but for festivals and tournaments during which families, relatives and friends gathered to support footballers big and small. Among these tournaments is the most prestigious in Cebu, the Aboitiz Cup, which is organized by the Aboitiz Group of Companies along with the Cebu Football Association.

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The question now is this: Where will the Aboitiz Cup and the other tournaments and festivals that had used the Aboitiz Sports Field as venue be held next?

The problem is that Metropolitan Cebu has few public open spaces in urban areas and even fewer football fields. Ideally, an urbanized city needs several hundred hectares of open space for recreation. For example, the Planning Department of Hong Kong has set a standard of 20 hectares of public open space per 100,000 persons. Of the 20 hectares, some four hectares ought to be devoted to multi-purpose grass pitches (1.2 hectares) and sports grounds (three hectares). These open spaces, which are “developed either by the public or private sector,” serve as venues for various recreation activities and sports, including football.

If these standards for open spaces are followed, this means that a highly urbanized area like Cebu City, which has a population of close to one million people, needs 200 hectares of open space, of which 42 hectares should be devoted to multi-purpose grass pitches and sports grounds. So if it wants to be world class, Cebu City must provide its citizens with at least four sports grounds similar to the Cebu City Sports Complex. Remember, we’re just talking about Cebu City, not the entire Metropolitan Cebu area.

The good news is that the Cebu City Council has finally come to its senses and approved an ordinance that seeks to develop 10 hectares of the 300-hectare South Road Properties into a multi-sports facility. According to a news item by Sun.Star Cebu reporter Princess Dawn Felicitas that saw print yesterday, the author of the ordinance, Councilor Eugenio Gabuya Jr., “cited Section 17 of the Local Government Code, which mandates local government units to provide the public with efficient and effective basic services and facilities, including for sports.”

The bad news is that since these pronouncements are coming from the City Government, I’m afraid it will take ages before this project sees the light of day. Sports and recreation enthusiasts will have to make do with what little the city has to offer, and the thought that the project might not even come to fruition considering the competing demands for land.

As for football buffs wondering where the Aboitiz Cup and other tourneys might be held, they will have to deal with the reality that the Aboitiz Sports Field – which is actually in Mandaue City – is no more. As consolation, there are still the Cebu City Sports Complex, the San Roque Football Field also in Mandaue, and the new University of San Carlos Football Stadium, a good addition to the football infrastructure in Cebu City, accessibility issues notwithstanding.

And then we can always hope that on the property where the Aboitiz Sports Field used to exist, the partnership of AboitizLand and Ayala Land Inc. that will develop the 15-hectare mixed-used district would consider adequate open space and, perhaps, build something iconic: a sprawling grass-roof building where various recreation and sports activities like football can be enjoyed.

(nsvillaflor@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 29, 2014.

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