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Sanjay Nair
Monday, Nov 3, 2014

Sports

National Stadium not pitch-perfect yet but getting there

The Straits Times | Sanjay Nair | Monday, Nov 3, 2014

The National Stadium field is finally beginning to look as it should have from the start.

During a media inspection of the 55,000-seater facility yesterday, the barren patches of sand which were a sore sight at past events were largely gone, replaced by thin blades of ryegrass.

However, the transformation has come at a price. Singapore Sports Hub chief operating officer Oon Jin Teik admits "substantial costs" were absorbed, as events had to be rescheduled and urgent repairs were made to remedy the surface. For instance, refunds were given out after Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou's concert was postponed from Nov 8 to Dec 27, while the Maori All Blacks' rugby friendly against the Asia Pacific Dragons on Nov 15 was cancelled after selling almost 5,000 tickets.

Such steps cleared the calendar to give the turf some breathing space to grow before the National Stadium hosts Singapore's three ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup group matches from Nov 23 to 29.

And the Sports Hub will continue to tip-toe around the natural grass reinforced with artificial fibre inserts even after the end of the regional football showpiece.

The Straits Times understands that, in the run-up to next June's SEA Games, non-sporting events at the venue will not be allowed to use the field, or even have it covered.

This means the stage could be moved off the pitch for boyband One Direction's concert on March 11, as it was for pop diva Mariah Carey's gig last week.

"It's a young field, so even with a good Terraplas cover like we're using, there's an impact onthe grass," said Mr Oon. "It is still a work in progress but we believe we're on the right path to fixing the issue."

The venue's dome roof has been closed since the Brazil-Japan football friendly a fortnight ago to mitigate the issue of irregular and insufficient sunlight as well as excessive humidity.

The Sports Hub has also roped in over 10 experts in the fields of fungicide, fertiliser and agronomy, while groundsmen have reduced the water temperature by 10 deg C when watering the pitch to stimulate the growth of rye, a cool-weather grass.

Special growth lights - purchased from the Netherlands for $1.5 million - have been switched on at four-hour intervals across the hybrid turf to act like sunlight through the night. The machines' wheels have left noticeable marks on the surface, although officials insist that they can be patched up.

Yesterday, AFF pitch consultant Hiroi Koichi was spotted inspecting the field and having a discussion with Sports Hub senior director (stadia) Greg Gillin. According to sources, the Japanese expert said the pitch has shown much improvement since his last visit three weeks ago.

But the AFF is understood to have concerns over the wear and tear on the surface when it hosts three Suzuki Cup matches over seven days later this month. Jalan Besar Stadium was roped in to stage the three group matches that do not involve Singapore.

Mr Oon insisted that the Republic's sporting reputation has suffered minimal impact, despite complaints about the pitch. He said: "A very big foreign firm is looking at us as a host venue for its event. They are not worried (about the field) and said this is normal for a start-up."

nsanjay@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Nov 01, 2014.
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