Queens — For the first time in 40 years, soccer leagues will not be able to play at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens for three weeks in a row.
The New York City Parks Department (NYC Parks) temporarily suspended those sports during the US Open 2012, to be held Aug. 27-Sept. 9.
Alfonso Vargas, president of the Alianza de Ligas Latinas de Fútbol in Flushing Meadows, a consortium of 11 local organizations, said that these activities used to only be cancelled the weekend of the final.
Vargas mentioned that since March, he has been asking the new park administrator, Janice Melnick, to reconsider the ban. But this week, when the league received the permits for the second part of the season, there were no changes.
“First, they said we littered and caused problems,” he said. “Now that we hired our own security and cleaning, we just want to play among friends and they won’t let us.”
Malik Mamoud, president of the Bangladesh Cricket Association, which is based in this park, also confirmed their cricket games had been cancelled.
The leagues asked Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras for help. She found out that the ban was ordered by the New York Police Department to prevent large crowds.
“I’m sure that both sports, soccer and tennis, can coexist in Flushing Park as they’ve done in the past,” said Ferreras via e-mail.
Zachary Feder, spokesman for the Parks Department, explained via e-mail that no other activities will be allowed at the park, because they would coincide with the tennis matches and Mets games at Citi Field. Likewise, they have asked the Queens Museum of Art and other municipal agencies not to plan events and to stop construction in the area.
“This policy is designed to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of additional visitors the park receives during those events.” Feder said that NYC Parks will work with the soccer leagues to adjust their schedules.
On weekends, more than 20,000 residents play games in this space, but the activity in the courts and fields does not stop Monday through Friday. “This provides fresh air and a recreational center for residents of this community,” said Vargas.
Ecuadorans Diego Rivera, 30, and Felipe García, 31, are regular visitors from Flushing Meadows. “In previous years, they wouldn’t even let you kick a ball with your kid during the US Open, so now it will be worse,” said Rivera.
“At the same time the city asks people to exercise, here they don’t let you play,” said García.
Nearby, a Mexican team criticized the measure. “We come every Thursday to play and some come three days a week, because they’re in three leagues at the same time,” said Jesús Aguilar, 40. “This leaves us with the season half-finished,” said Alex Rivera, 27.
Vargas, Mamoud and community leaders denounced the measure as an example of the discriminatory treatment they receive from Flushing Meadows officials.
“This is one of the few open spaces serving the residents of Jackson Heights, Corona, Elmhurst and East Elmhurst”, said Raúl García of Queens Community Board 3. “A measure like this is offensive, because the majority of those affected are Latinos who make the park part of their lives.”
Flushing Meadows is the main recreational area for thousands of immigrants. “Seventy-five percent of the population living in this area is people of color and almost 40% are poor,” said Will Sweeney, member of the Jackson Heights Green Alliance.
“NYC Parks and the US Tennis Association (USTA) have a sense of taking over the park that complicates the lives of its users”, said Sweeney.
USTA spokespersons said they did not ask for any changes to the security policy in Flushing Meadows during the tournament.
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