Sandy patches gone from National Stadium pitch
Slowly but surely, the quality of the pitch at the National Stadium is improving.
SportsHub Pte Ltd's chief operating officer Oon Jin Teik yesterday opened the 55,000-seater stadium's doors to the media, and provided an update on the efforts to ensure the playing surface is in the best possible shape ahead of Singapore's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup campaign on Nov 23.
While the pitch is not exactly in pristine condition, gone are the unsightly, sandy patches that caused a public outcry when the venue hosted glamour friendly matches involving Juventus, Brazil and Japan over the last three months.
Oon said the Sports Hub intends to keep the public updated on the progress of the pitch.
He said: "We had a problem. There's no dancing around that issue.
"I'm more desperate... and determined to solve this issue than my harshest critic.
"We will do everything we need to do, and our board has given us all the resources we need to fix it... We are going all out to get it resolved."
Singapore, the defending champions of the Asean title, are co-hosts of this year's tournament, along with Vietnam.
Vietnam will host Group A, while Singapore will hold Group B games.
Not long after Oon's hour-long briefing with the press yesterday, an AFF pitch inspector also had a closer look at the pitch.
Hiroi Koichi, a Japanese independent field expert based in Malaysia and who regularly acts for the AFF, was seen flanked by Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) director of marketing and communications, Gerard Wong, and Sports Hub's managing director of facilities management, Eric Tan.
The New Paper understands Koichi, who was present for the Brazil-Japan friendly on Oct 14, was pleased with the improvement in the quality of the playing surface in the two weeks since.
He is expected to make several more visits to the National Stadium ahead of the Suzuki Cup's big kick-off.
The stadium's abillity to host the Suzuki Cup came under scrutiny after TNP reported on Oct 9 that the venue's hosting of the Jay Chou concert and a rugby friendly contravened the AFF's minimum 15-day requirement for the pitch to "rest" before the start of the tournament.
The concert was subsequently rescheduled from Nov 8 to Dec 27 while the sandy state of the pitch led to the cancellation of the rugby friendly between the Maori All Blacks and the Asia Pacific Dragons, originally scheduled on Nov 15.
Satisfied by the adjustments, the AFF agreed to a compromise.
On Thursday, the FAS and Sports Hub confirmed that the Lions will play all their AFF Suzuki Cup Group B games - against Thailand on Nov 23, Myanmar (Nov 26) and Malaysia (Nov 29) - at the National Stadium.
The other three group games will be played at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
Even with the reduced number of games held at the National Stadium, Oon admitted that he was anxious to see how the surface would hold up.
"Any pitch with an aggressive schedule, will wear off over time," he said.
"So, we will have to see how this pitch behaves closer (to the date). I can't say it'll be perfect. No pitch in the world, even the old National Stadium one, will hold up like that.
"It will wear out for sure, unless it's an artificial pitch."
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE:
$1.5 million worth of special lighting equipment was purchased from Holland to mimic sunlight.
The lights, which have been deployed since Oct 7, are turned on for four hours straight and then off for two.
They are moved all over the pitch according to experts' advice on which segments need more light.
Six large, industrial-powered fans located along the perimeter of pitch blast wind at the grass to keep it cool and dry.
The dome of the National Stadium traps humidity and this could make blades of grass wet, increasing the chances of diseases which stunt growth.
Sports Hub has engaged more than 10 experts from different fields - grass, lights, fertiliser, fungicide and so on - in an attempt to optimise the growth of the grass.
Sports Hub chief operating officer Oon Jin Teik insists they will "leave no stone unturned" in their efforts, and are constantly on the lookout and in contact with consultants who can help them.