Business complex for Yangon’s historic sporting grounds stirs up controversy

Kyaikkasan sports ground covers a vast expanse of prime real estate in the heart of Yangon that has entertained and thrilled for decades, while also concealing a darker past as a temporary detention centre used during crackdowns by the former military regime.
Now the historic site, once home of the colonial-era Rangoon Turf Club racecourse, is said to be slated for development as a commercial complex by a consortium of Japanese and Myanmar companies. Controversy surrounds the project, with questions being asked over how the contract was awarded and for what purposes.

In a city of frenetically expanding construction sites and diminishing open areas, Kyaikkasan is treasured by residents, despite its rundown, socialist-era feel.

The sprawling grounds, covering over 100 acres, are currently used by the Institute of Sports and Physical Education under the sports ministry. The horses are long gone but the institute is involved in training and coaching more than 30 sports and activities, including archery, badminton, basketball, billiards, athletics and cycling. Last month it hosted the 11th annual Traditional Kite Design and Dueling Competition.

“In the early morning, there are many people who come here for their daily exercises, especially jogging,” said a member of staff who asked not to be named.

“The Institute of Sports and Physical Education is teaching courses here, especially for high school students. There is almost every kind of sports training here,” he added. He said he had no idea about the controversy over its future.

In late January, New Light of Myanmar, a state newspaper, described a meeting between U Win Tun, minister for environment and forestry, and a Japanese businessman representing Kyaikkasan Land Development Pte. They were said to have discussed upgrading the sports institute and developing a commercial complex.

The newspaper reported that Kyaikkasan Land Development had been registered in Singapore for the project in cooperation with Raysum, a Japanese property management company; Ikeya Corporation, a Japanese business consultancy in Myanmar; and Mariana Investment, a local company.

Kyaikkasan Land Development could not be reached for comment. U Sein Lwin, the company’s deputy chair, is also head of the Timber Merchants Association which declined to provide his contact details. Ikeya declined to comment. Mariana Investment could not be reached for comment.

The ministry of information said on its website that Kyaikkasan Land Development would invest in upgrading the Institute of Sports and Physical Education and build a “central business district”. It said that Azusa Sekkei, a Japanese firm of architects, would design the complex to be built by Mitsubishi. AEON Mall, a Japanese mall developer, would build shopping centers and supermarkets, while it expected further investments by leading Japanese companies in the business district.

Local media reported a month ago, quoting a member of Yangon regional parliament, that no tender was held for the Kyaikkasan development ground and that the proposal was sent directly by the companies to President U Thein Sein.

The plans have stirred up a broad debate among the public, but relevant officials deny knowledge of it.
U Zaw Htay, director of the president’s office, said on April 22 that he did not know about the project, although the Yangon regional parliament had said it was a state project.

“This is the first time I’ve ever heard about that project. You should ask the relevant ministry,” he told The Myanmar Times.

A sports ministry official said the ministry had no involvement in the project. “The project is a government project. We are not working on it… We are not working on business matters. The ministry is working only to improve sport for the country,” he said.

Daw Nyo Nyo Thin, an opposition lawmaker in the Yangon regional parliament, proposed cancelling the project in early April, but it rejected her proposal.

“According to the law, projects to be done in Yangon region should be sent to hluttaw beforehand. Before sending it to the president, the companies should let the regional parliament know. Technically, discussing the project in the regional parliament, investigating the tender committee, confirming and making the decision by regional parliament are usual procedures,” she said.

Daw Nyo Nyo Thin presented letters of objection by urban planning experts, civil societies, and some government departments.

U Harry Phone Thant, a senior advisor of Myanmar Tourism Federation, says the ground is about 150 years old. The Rangoon Turf Club moved there in 1926.

“It is a historical ground because of its background,” he said, noting that Union Day, Peasants Day and May Day rallies were held there during the socialist era under Ne Win.

The now crumbling art deco members stand was used by delegates from far and wide to deliver speeches extolling the virtues of socialism. It also served as a stage for entertainers, such as the popular zat pwe troupes Shweman Thabin and Sein Aung Min.

“The grounds were transformed into a fair ground. All government departments had their own show-stands. The smaller private entrepreneurs had theirs. It was a big occasion for everybody, especially the black marketeers who would buy up the items on sale and sell back at a profit,” he added.

Source: Myanmar Times

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