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Queens Chronicle

No park giveaway to an oil billionaire for soccer

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Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 10:30 am

He’s worth about $4.9 billion, according to the latest estimates. He sails around in what may be the world’s largest yacht — one with a pool and helipad.

He’s the deputy prime minister of a backwards Arab nation that lives under Sharia law, oppressing women, gay people and the foreign guest workers who make up nearly 90 percent of his hometown’s population.

He’s Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, a monarchy that won’t even allow Israeli citizens to cross its border, and a member of the royal family in his home principality, oil-rich Abu Dhabi.

And he’s the man to whom Mayor Bloomberg is reportedly about to essentially give more than a dozen acres of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, for free, so that Major League Soccer can build a stadium for a team the sheikh would own.

This is a plan that absolutely must be stopped.

This page has reiterated again and again the multiple reasons MLS should not build a 25,000-seat arena on top of the old Pool of Industry in the park.

First of all, it’s our parkland, the crown jewel of Queens, or at least it would be if it were given half the respect that goes to, say, Central Park or Prospect Park. We hope one result of the soccer controversy, as well as the United States Tennis Association expansion and the Willets West development plan, is a reinvigorated FMCP Conservancy to help protect and beautify the park.

The city should not be giving our parkland to private, for-profit interests, even when they’re not oil billionaires.

Then there’s the geological reason: FMCP is essentially swampland topped by coal ash, and it cannot safely support a massive stadium built atop an underground creek.

Then there’s the fact that a stadium could be built elsewhere, even in Queens, but MLS never gave a serious look at alternatives, much preferring land it could get for free to a parcel it would have to actually pay for.

We would love to have a soccer stadium built somewhere in the borough, just not on public land given away for nothing. The sport is beloved by many residents, especially recent immigrants from countries where it’s king. There are other parcels of the size MLS needs where we would welcome a new sports arena.

But the emergence of Sheikh Mansour as the bankroller of a team that would play in Flushing Meadows is one more reason to oppose the project. Not only is he filthy rich — his family is worth about $150 billion —but he’s part of a very repressive government.

Decisions are made in the UAE by members of the royal elite. And its policies are not ones that most Americans would find tolerable. Men, for example, can hit their wives. All four of them. They can marry non-Arab women, but women cannot marry non-Arab men. Gays must stay in the closet, or face up to 14 years in prison and possible chemical castration. Digital maps available on the national airline simply ignore the existence of Israel.

City Councilman Danny Dromm blasted the UAE in a prepared statement as soon as he heard of the sheikh’s involvement in the soccer plan. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer quickly followed suit. Both are gay men representing districts in Queens.

One other Council member should stand up against the sheikh and the MLS plan too: Julissa Ferreras. She represents the area where the stadium would go and therefore could stop it single-handedly. Surely Ferreras cannot tolerate a plan to give our parkland to a leader of a misogynist state.

Welcome to the discussion.