Sports Hub confident of solving pitch concerns

Sections of the National Stadium pitch appeared to be sandy during the Asian Football Confederation football match between Tampines Rovers and Selangor.
Sections of the National Stadium pitch appeared to be sandy during the Asian Football Confederation football match between Tampines Rovers and Selangor. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The Singapore Sports Hub is confident the National Stadium pitch will be ready in time for Saturday's Super Rugby match between the Sunwolves and Stormers.

The state of the "lay-and-play" field attracted criticism following Tuesday's Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup game between Tampines Rovers and Selangor.

It appeared sandy and uneven in patches. Players including Jermaine Pennant and Fahrudin Mustafic complained about the pitch conditions, saying that it was "slippery and bumpy" and lamenting that "we had to take an extra touch to bring the ball under control".

Yesterday, a concerned Rugby Singapore chairman Low Teo Ping chimed in, saying: "The pitch is terrible.

"I may not necessarily be the expert in this area of management, but I think they had ample time to do something about it. And I don't think they did much about it."

Referring to events that were held at the Kallang venue over the past month that left visible worn markings on the pitch, he added: "Looking at it positively, those are the scars of success."

He was referring to the 55,000-seat venue hosting the April 16-17 HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens and last week's Asia Masters Athletics Championships, which concluded on Sunday.

While noting the short turnaround time between the events, Low said that there are no excuses.

He said: "If you've got to work at it (through) the night, so be it."

When the National Stadium reopened two years ago, the grass in its $800,000 Desso GrassMaster pitch was unable to grow properly because the stadium's dome design did not allow sufficient sunlight in.

The Sports Hub then invested more than $2 million in growth lights and a "lay-and-play" surface with warm-weather grass, only for the problems to resurface.

But a spokesman for the Sports Hub said yesterday that "we have confidence in our pitch maintenance regime and will be conducting necessary tests to secure the required approvals and clearances ahead of Saturday's rugby games".

She pointed out that the field had been certified fit to stage the Tampines-Selangor game, noting: "For Tuesday's match, our pitch met the required standards and passed inspection by the AFC match commissioner ahead of the game."

She also gave the assurance that "the integrity and playability of the pitch" and the safety of athletes remain a priority.

To that end, the field is assessed regularly under an internationally recognised process approved by world football body Fifa and World Rugby. Tests are conducted before and after major events.

"The process includes measuring surface safety and playability for players," the spokesman explained.

"These include evaluation for, for example, shock absorption, vertical deformation (a measure of the stability of the surface as it is impacted when a player runs across it) as well as rotational resistance (a measure of the traction provided by the playing surface)."

The national women's rugby team are hoping that their Test match against Hong Kong, a curtain-raiser for the Super Rugby game, will not fall victim to pitch issues.

Singapore coach Wang Shao Ing said: "My only concern now is whether they will call off the curtain-raiser to preserve the pitch (for Super Rugby).

"Let's hope that we won't have to do that."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2016, with the headline 'Sports Hub confident of solving pitch concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe