Sports Hub field far from pitch-perfect

Steps being taken to improve turf following opening-match criticism

Players from both the Singapore Selection (red) and Juventus (black and white) lamented the sandy conditions of the National Stadium pitch. It will now undergo works to improve it ahead of a packed calendar.
Players from both the Singapore Selection (red) and Juventus (black and white) lamented the sandy conditions of the National Stadium pitch. It will now undergo works to improve it ahead of a packed calendar. ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

The playing surface of the National Stadium, the crown jewel of the $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub, will be given special attention to ensure that it is up to the mark with world-class standards.

While fans and players relished a night under the arena's iconic dome as it hosted its first football match, the field of the 55,000-seat stadium was the target of criticism for its sandy patches. The match, a friendly between a Singapore Selection side and Juventus, ended 5-0 in favour of the Italian Serie A champions.

Said Mr Gregory Gillin, the Sports Hub's senior director of stadia: "We note the feedback and agree there is room for improvement for the pitch... As with any new stadium, we expect teething problems as we continue to ramp up operations, and are concurrently evaluating what additional measures we need to implement to achieve an elite playing surface that meets the needs of our multi-purpose calendar."

It is believed that among the steps likely to be taken is minimising the use of the field to allow it to rest and grow and better take root. Special lighting, like those used in European stadiums, may also be used to stimulate grass growth.

But Mr Gillin maintained that despite the less than perfect conditions, the pitch was "100 per cent safe" for Saturday's game - a point Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri disagreed on. Post-match, he told the media that the field was "sandy" and "not perfect", and he rested star striker Carlos Tevez as a precaution.

The pitch's state was also not spared by Italian media who covered the game. La Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy's most-read sports daily, reported that the pitch was in poor condition, while the newspaper Tuttosport also highlighted the field's poor condition in a headline, and described it as poor and sandy in its match report.

Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny's penalty area was one of the sandiest spots on the field - and he paid the price. He had numerous cuts and abrasions from diving about inside his area.

Winger Faris Ramli, while grateful to be given the chance to play the Italian giants at home, said that while injuries are a concern, a potentially bigger problem might be the immediate reputation of the Sports Hub.

"It reflects badly on Singapore, and I'm worried top teams might think twice about playing here."

The pitch also came under fire during the Rugby World Club 10s in June, when players complained about the same problem.

Its condition was surprising given that the National Stadium uses the €500,000 (S$834,000) Desso GrassMaster System, seen in top stadiums like Real Madrid's Bernabeu and Manchester United's Old Trafford.

Designers claimed the system anchors the pitch, creates a solid structure and could withstand Singapore's tropical weather. The cutting-edge technology, officials said, would allow the National Stadium to host more than 100 football, rugby, cricket, athletics and entertainment events each year at the venue.

But shortly after the arena's June opening, just as the field was taking root, the pitch was covered and deprived of light to grow properly as the stadium played host to a June 28 Singapore Chinese Orchestra concert and local singer Stefanie Sun's concert on July 5.

The pitch will again face a race against time as it hosts a jam-packed schedule before the end of the year, including a friendly between five-time World Cup winners Brazil and defending Asian champions Japan (Oct 14), concerts by American songbird Mariah Carey (Oct 24) and Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou (Nov 8), and the Nov 22-Dec 20 Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.

Nazri Nasir, who played on the pitch on Sunday, likened his experience to "running on the beach".

Said the former national captain: "You can have a beautiful stadium, high-tech facilities, but at the end of the day, football is played on the pitch. And I hope it will be perfect soon."

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