Will NSC, NSI move to Sepang for Bukit Jalil to become Malaysia’s Wembley?

It was supposed to be a ‘total’ sporting and entertainment hub, one that would be thriving and alive with events all through the year.

Yet, the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding facilities have not seen that much excitement.

The sprawling and iconic complex, collectively known as the Kuala Lumpur Sports City, was built when Malaysia hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1998 – the biggest multi-sporting event hosted by the Southeast Asian nation, to date.

Malaysians, who seem to adore everything British – from supporting Premier League football clubs, to holidaying in London during Christmas – had aspirations that the sports city would be similar to Wembley Stadium in London.

The idea had been around for some time, as the plan was for the area to become a major attraction for locals and tourists, creating jobs and other economic opportunities.

In 2019, that conversation popped up again after then-Malaysia Stadium Corporation (MSC) chairman, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, said he wanted to recreate the Wembley Stadium ‘feel’ in Malaysia.

He had said that the MSC had planned to bring in “great restaurants, gift shops, and entertainment”, in and around the stadium.

Several eateries were initially seen in the area, but the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in various lockdowns in the country, wrecked the expansion plans.

As the economy in Malaysia and the world begin to open up, these conversations, regarding the redevelopment of Bukit Jalil into a sustainable sporting-cum-entertainment hub, are on again.

This time, the plan includes a deal that will see the National Sports Council (NSC) and the National Sports Institute (NSI) be relocated to Sepang, near the Sepang International Circuit.

In return, the existing NSC and NSI buildings and facilities will be taken over by sports- and entertainment-driven outlets and hotels. It was to be a “land swap” deal with the construction of the new facilities in Sepang borne by the developers.

The planned development is to recreate the Wembley Stadium experience, where visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to food, with many shopping outlets in the area, and even the Wembley Library, all within walking distance from the main stadium.

For this to work, the Youth and Sports Ministry will first need to work with the Transport Ministry, as the land in Sepang that had been earmarked belongs to Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd. It remains unclear if the parties are still pursuing the matter.

Secondly, the Education Ministry needs to be kept in the loop too, as it would surely consider moving the Bukit Jalil Sports School, either to Sepang, or to another suitable location elsewhere in the Klang Valley, given the proposed development that may not be conducive to the student-athletes.

Critics will ask why Sepang, and would this land swap deal benefit certain quarters?

It is understood that the land area is apparently bigger than what the NSC and NSI currently enjoy. This would mean setting up more facilities that would benefit the national athletes.

The second argument to back the move is that the identified land in Sepang is located near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, making travel abroad easier for the national athletes.

Also, the national athletes and officials who stay, train, and work at NSC and NSI would not have to endure the horrendous traffic when there is a major event. This is especially so during concerts and festivals in the area.

A major overhaul will also allow the developers and local authorities to re-plan the traffic system within and around the Sports City to ensure residents living nearby are not inconvenienced each time there is an event there.

It is understood that the planned development would be at zero cost for the government, similar to Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd winning a RM1.6 billion bid in 2015 to regenerate the sporting facilities in Bukit Jalil while expanding its land bank, ahead of the 2017 Kuala Lumpur SEA Games.

There needs to be a proper, detailed study and engagement with the respective stakeholders to ensure that the Kuala Lumpur Sports City can truly become the Wembley of Malaysia.

There must also be a projected monetisation and sustainability plan to see how best the National Stadium and its surrounding facilities can help generate income and contribute to the nation’s coffers.

Such redevelopment plans will also allow the stadium owners to relook at green practices in and around the stadium.

It boils down to proper planning. And when things are planned properly, Bukit Jalil can finally be the Wembley of Malaysia, if not better.

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