After months of controversy and spending S$1.5 million on new lighting equipment to try to improve the quality of the National Stadium pitch, Sports Hub Pte Ltd (SHPL) is making a drastic U-turn: It will resurface the pitch permanently with artificial turf – the surface it had originally considered but opted against, TODAY has learnt.
This means that less than six months after the new stadium was opened, the S$800,000 Desso GrassMaster pitch – a hybrid of synthetic and natural grass– faces the prospect of being replaced with an all-new synthetic surface.
Sources said the cost will be borne by SHPL. For promoters of sports events who insist on natural grass, TODAY understands that SHPL will install it over the artificial pitch temporarily and this can be done in less than 72 hours.
In response to queries, SHPL chief operating officer Oon Jin Teik said: “We are exploring several pitch solutions that can cater to our multipurpose sports and entertainment calendar at the National Stadium. More details will be released at a later date.”
The consortium already has a nursery that is used to grow grass to be installed outside the football pitch for cricket matches that require a bigger turf. In future, this will also be used to grow grass for the main pitch.
NATURAL VS ARTIFICIAL
In March last year, TODAY reported that SHPL had been considering installing artificial grass for the National Stadium in view of a hectic calendar for the 55,000-seat arena.
The plan was abandoned later in favour of the Desso GrassMaster. Artificial turfs are approved for use in elite competitions by international sports bodies such as FIFA and the International Rugby Board. However, some teams, including several English Premier League football clubs and international rugby sides such as the Wallabies and the Maori All Blacks, are known to insist on playing on natural grass.
When the stadium was opened in June, it hosted the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, among other events.
The pitch failed to recover in time for the high-profile football friendly matches between Juventus and a Singapore Selection side as well as between Brazil and Japan in August and last month, respectively.
A series of hasty measures were taken to help the pitch recover for the ongoing AFF Suzuki Cup, including cancellations of a concert by Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou and an Asia Pacific Dragons versus Maori All Blacks rugby friendly match. However, sandy patches were still visible on the field when Thailand defeated Singapore 2-1 in Sunday’s opening match.
Speaking from Spain, Mr Paul Burgess, chief groundsman for Spanish football club Real Madrid, said laying natural turf over synthetic grass is not uncommon. For example, Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, which has a permanent artificial pitch, installed natural grass temporarily for the 2008 Champions League Final between English clubs Chelsea and Manchester United.
“It has been done in many stadiums and can be installed very quickly,” said Mr Burgess. “All you need is about three to four days to lay the natural turf over artificial pitch. If you maintain it properly, it can last at least a month. If you don’t maintain it properly, it will last a day.”