Attending a sports event in Dubai recently, a Singapore official was teased about the state of the now-infamous field at the National Stadium.
“Even our desert can grow grass,” a local administrator said wryly. From Dubai to Dunga, everyone has been talking about the Sports Hub. That is not necessarily a good thing.
The $1.33-billion mini-city was meant to put Singapore on the global sporting map, not be the butt of jokes or, worse, be the reason for the cancellation or postponement of world-class events.
Officials find themselves reflecting on the first six months of operations, just as they stand six months away from hosting the SEA Games, where more than just medals are at stake.
The first rule of sport is humility. Sports Hub’s senior management have perhaps forgotten it by grading its current state at an A- or B+.
Since opening its doors last June, the centrepiece of the 35ha Hub – the Desso GrassMaster-backed field – has been sub-standard.
The seats are comfortable and well-cooled, the food and beverage outlets well-stocked, but the very canvas for which fans pay to watch athletes play on is not up to the mark. That alone is cause for a full letter downgrade to C+.
It is a sporting travesty to see a Neymar dribble halted by a sandy patch, or a Keisuke Honda shot deflected by a pothole.
Add in a leaky roof during the rain-hit Jay Chou concert last month, and it is apparent that issues exist from top to bottom at the 55,000-seat stadium.
There is no disputing Sports Hub’s efforts to plug the gaps, both on the dome and their diligence in trying to grow and maintain a quality playing surface.
Many major venues around the world are criticised for over-priced programming and a lack of transportation options around the venue. Ironically, these are the two areas in which the Sports Hub have fared reasonably well.
The novelty of regular folks getting to play at a world-class facility is wonderful, while playing at a new facility in the heart of a thriving metropolis was an opportunity too good for even Brazil’s football team to pass up.
Singapore has announced itself as an upstart in the sports business scene, but one needing to step up its game and get basics like the field right, if it is to be taken seriously.
There already exists whispers in some circles that the field may have done irreparable damage to Singapore’s standing.
It would be harsh to go so far as to say that. Wembley Stadium in London and Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium had teething problems too. They were swift and decisive in tackling their field fiascos. Sports Hub needs to do the same.
But until Singaporeans see the green, green grass under a dome where they do not have to hold an umbrella, the Hub should be happy with a C+ grade.