Decision time for National Stadium pitch: Nurse turf to health or go for artificial base?

The National Stadium field was panned as substandard when it hosted a Brazil-Japan friendly football match in October.
The National Stadium field was panned as substandard when it hosted a Brazil-Japan friendly football match in October.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

With the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup done and dusted as far as Singapore is concerned, the spotlight at the Sports Hub is once again on the National Stadium field.

The surface, which was panned as substandard when the stadium hosted a Brazil-Japan friendly football match in October, held up for three matches in the space of a week. Now, the Sports Hub is looking to build up its long-term health.

The Straits Times understands that of the various possible solutions, two are being considered strongly.

The first involves keeping faith with the current Desso turf, but it would involve minimising the number of events on the field until Singapore hosts the SEA Games in June next year.

This would give the $800,000 Desso GrassMaster field - a hybrid of synthetic and natural grass - sufficient time to flourish under $1.5 million lighting machines which stimulate the growth of rye, a cool weather grass.

Such an outcome would be ideal for sporting event promoters.

"The Desso system is favoured by all the top clubs, so I would like to see the Sports Hub sticking with it," said Mr Julian Kam, chief executive of ProEvents, which has organised Asian tours for English football giants such as Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

The second - and more controversial - option is to switch to an artificial turf.

Events requiring real grass will then be equipped with a temporary "lay and play" surface. It would involve cutting up the natural field at an off-site nursery and then transporting the grass in rolls to the stadium, where it will be laid on top of the artificial turf.

Such a surface would be less prone to damage and more able to host concerts or mixed martial arts events, such as those by One Fighting Championship, which is planning to host a mega-card here next year.

But such surfaces are slippery, and sports teams cite higher chances of injuries on them.

Mr Kam said: "After 20 years in the business, I have yet to hear from a single team asking to play on (artificial turfs)."

Several international sporting bodies frown upon using such surfaces for elite-level competitions.

Promoters of sporting events would also be concerned about the hiring cost of the stadium.

If the stadium's default surface is artificial, the cost of installing a "lay and play" field could be transferred to promoters and, subsequently, consumers. Also, it is believed that the temporary surface will need to be replaced four to five times a year at a cost of about $500,000 each time.

With the National Stadium set to host Super Rugby matches and a leg of the Sevens World Series in the next year, local officials are also concerned about whether the mooted artificial turf can meet guidelines.

Singapore Rugby Union president Low Teo Ping said: "A natural grass surface is desired, and if the 'lay and play' option is taken, the Sports Hub needs to ensure the surface is available for testing six months before the event to ensure player welfare is taken into consideration."