YOUTH and children growing up in urban areas barely have access to open space and playgrounds. Unplanned urbanisation and encroachment on public spaces left little space for them to engage in outdoor activities. The few playgrounds that are still there are mostly used for purposes other than sports, constraining the youth’s access to them. It is in this context, the local youth of Shahi Eidgah in Sylhet formed a human chain demanding their access to playgrounds. In December 2018, a month-long trade fair was organised in the Sheikh Rasel Mini Statdium by the Sylhet Chamber of Commerce and Industry and now, another similar body plans to hold another international trade fair in the ground. By occupying the playground for two consecutive months for trade fairs, the organisers effectively blocked the youth’s access to the ground for the entire winter. The youths attending the protests criticised the playground authorities for their failure to follow the guideline by routinely allowing trade fairs. Sylhet city authorities should attend to the demand of the youth and take steps to stop business associations using parks for entrepreneurial activities.
The scenario in Sylhet is no different from other divisional cities. Earlier, defying players’ access to open spaces, authorities in Chattogram allowed the playgrounds to be used for commercial purposes. Players and administrators of sports club of Chattogram complained how major grounds are repeatedly used for commercial purposes for at least five months of the years. Besides, some fields are frequently used for political meeting and public gathering.
The Chattogram District Sports Association implicitly mentioned the pressure that they face from fair organisers. Their claims are understandable given that organisers often have likes with different government bodies or are part of influential business groups. There are also allegations of illegal occupation of school playgrounds or parks by members of the youth wing of the ruling party. In March 2018, we wrote about the way the Awami Juba League erected permanent structure for its office illegally on a large of corner of the Siddheweri Boys’ School playground in Dhaka. Authorities responsible for maintaining the parks and playgrounds should, therefore, have a clear guideline to ensure that they are not used for purposes other than intended.
Denying access to playground and parks will have unexpected long-term social consequences, including the already manifested surge in youth violence. The government must, therefore, designate spaces for fairs to ensure that the commercially oriented events do not interrupt sports activities in any playgrounds. The government must also frame guidelines on the use of parks and the city authorities must take due action to reclaim illegally occupied spaces. In a larger context, the authorities concerned must address the problem of shrinking open space across the country.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial