Creating more recreational spaces, tax incentives for coaching sessions, among Hannah Yeoh’s next plans

The dry patches on the field didn’t stop the children from dribbling the ball from one end of the mini goalpost to the other.

Some 250 kids of various ages gathered yesterday at the poorly maintained field in Taman Melur, Ampang, in Selangor – a neighbourhood just outside the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Ironically, just walking distance from the neighbourhood is a well-kept field that is widely used by those staying in Taman Tasek Tambahan. It is also home to Tasek Dragon FC football academy.

Instead, the field in Taman Melur was picked as the venue for the National Sports Council-led football clinic that saw the presence of Youth and Sports Minister Hannah Yeoh. Also present was her DAP colleague, Yew Jia Haur, who is also a councilor with the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council and is Pakatan Harapan’s candidate for the Teratai state seat in the upcoming polls.

Yeoh and Yew (in brown t-shirt) giving out footballs at the field in Taman Melur. Image: Twentytwo13

Smiles were seen on the children’s faces as they each received an Umbro football – complete with the Youth and Sports Ministry, and Malaysia Madani logos. Yeoh played ‘football star’ for the hour as she autographed the balls.

The footballs that were given out during the event. Image: Twentytwo13

While addressing the children and their parents, Yeoh said the ministry had purchased 2,000 footballs, and that Taman Melur was the final stop in its nationwide campaign to ensure children had the necessary equipment to play sports.

While equipment is important, playing space too, was equally vital. Unfortunately, fields and playing spaces are a luxury in the Klang Valley, especially so in the heart of Malaysia’s capital.

It’s a different story in Ampang, where each of its more than 200 neighbourhoods have either a football field, or a playground.

“I want to talk to the Local Government Development Ministry to look into not just space for the young, but we also have a growing ageing population … and in the city, there’s a lack of recreational spaces,” said Yeoh, who is also Segambut MP.

“For me now, in Kuala Lumpur, it’s really about preserving the existing spaces. Don’t take the current spaces. To create new ones, that will be a challenge.”

In her speech, Yeoh also commended parents for supporting their children in taking up sports. Elaborating further after the event, she added: “Two things, one is for next year’s Budget, what we really want to champion – and we tried to do this last year but were not successful – is to ask for tax incentives or tax rebates for parents who send their kids for sports coaching.”

She said the current tax incentives were only for the purchase of equipment.

“If you spend on a swimming coach, for example, that would not be counted. We want that to be enabled, so that the entire sports industry and the coaching industry will grow. And parents will have the incentive to spend on sports training.

“Sports training and coaching can be very expensive, especially if you have commitments. If you have to pay for your kids’ tuition, you will not spend on coaching. That’s something we want to champion.”

“Secondly, it takes a lot for the parents to actually commit their time, drive their kids to training, sit, and wait. That’s something we need to continue to talk about.

“Overall, many Malaysians don’t commit to weekly exercise. They are too busy working or are just not interested. On top of exercise and healthy living, there’s also diet. Just too much sugar consumption.”

“It’s everywhere,” was Yeoh’s immediate reaction when it was pointed out to her that there was a makeshift stall selling sugary drinks at the sidelines of the field where the event took place.

Stalls selling sugary drinks and deep-fried food are commonly seen at most sporting venues and public parks nationwide.

Yeoh stressed that while the pursuit of gold medals at the elite level remains, grassroots sports is equally important. She added that a bigger pool of talent at the grassroots will result in more higher calibre athletes at the top.