Big song and dance

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 October, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 October, 1997, 12:00am

IF there is a handy bandwagon around, it is a certainty that a politician or two will jump aboard.

The bandwagon that rolled around recently was the Hong Kong Stadium and its travesty of a playing surface and, sure enough, we had a couple of Urban Council leading lights laying down the law to Wembley International.

An ultimatum was issued: fix the pitch this incoming summer or your contract will be cancelled.

Tough words, and guaranteed to go down well with those who have seen the state of the surface at what could be one of the world's better stadia.

I am not going to pull out the handkerchief for Wembley International - they can surely look after themselves - but let's be fair.

Wembley were not responsible for the pitch or the building of the Hong Kong Stadium. The stadium was erected through the generosity of the Hong Kong Jockey Club and - an apt proverb applies - you don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Sadly, as they have done with their own racetracks, the Jockey Club decided to put in a sandmesh surface, which had already conspicuously failed at the Hong Kong Football Club when that pitch was moved to the Happy Valley infield during the extensive refurbishment of the city racecourse.

The blind belief that the Jockey Club has in sandmesh is totally irrational, but if they wish to inflict it on themselves, well so be it. Unfortunately, they imposed the miserable creation on Wembley International and, largely, local football.

As a result, from the first day of business, the pitch has been a problem - and one that escalates as the surface degrades.

Anything that has been done since the stadium opened has merely amounted to tinkering with a concept that doesn't work.

It is a case of patching up an old banger and hoping it will see out another few months or a year.

And the Hong Kong Stadium deserves a Rolls-Royce of a surface which, one hopes, it will now finally get.

Wembley know very well that the only way this can be achieved is by consigning sandmesh to the nearest rubbish tip and starting anew.

The irony has always been that the parent company in London, the operators of Wembley Stadium, had for decades a surface that was the benchmark for all pitches in the world.

For the Urban Council, or a couple of their mouthpieces, to deliver a 'fix it or get out' ultimatum is just a little bit heavy.

If the mistake is not of one's own making, it is less than justice if one eventually pays a penalty.

If the Urban Council really wanted to do something extremely useful and act in the interests of the vast majority of the citizens of this community, they would get to grips with the so-called 'noise' issue.

The stadium has limped along from the start because its financial platform was kicked out from under it.

The Hong Kong Stadium was going to become financially sound and independent on the premise that there would be a number of pop concerts every year.

It may well be that there were flaws in the design and those contributed to a noise level from a concert that was above a certain mark - and therefore unacceptable.

But unacceptable to whom? The complaints came from those in the high-rent, high-profile buildings that dot the high ground around the stadium.

In effect, their whines have not only helped make a marvellous structure a white elephant, but also denied hundreds of thousands of people genuine enjoyment.

The noise issue has stopped some of the world's major figures in the entertainment and pop industry playing Hong Kong, and that is a disgrace. If we are becoming the cultural desert so often used to describe Hong Kong in the past, it is of our own doing.

This may sound simplistic in that complaints from residents are upheld because there are noise level laws in operation.

But if sensible measures are taken no one suffers, and a great number of people - plus the image of Hong Kong - benefit.

Conversely, when stories about head sets and gloves to muffle clapping make international headlines, Hong Kong's image takes a battering. Surely, we're not such a bunch of idiots? What the Urban Council, or those above, should decree is something remarkably simple - and effective.

There should be a small number of concerts permitted at the Hong Kong Stadium each year. They must be either on the eve of a public holiday or on a Friday or Saturday night. And they must end by 10.45pm.

Let common sense prevail in this matter so that the Hong Kong Stadium becomes a much more viable enterprise, and Hong Kong can be freshly established as an important and worthwhile venue for the biggest names in music.

By not making such a decision the Urban Council is simply backing a loser - time and again. Just as the Jockey Club, and luckless Wembley International, have done with the sandmesh pitch.