Row forces patch-up on Stadium pitch
The much-criticised Hong Kong Stadium pitch will be patched up rather than completely replaced this summer.
The current deadlock between the Urban Council and Wembley has resulted in the deadline to start major reconstruction work passing by, leaving all options closed other than temporary remedial work.
The impasse is due to the Urban Council wanting Hong Kong Stadium managers Wembley to bear final responsibility for the pitch once it had been reconstructed.
Sports Post learnt yesterday that the Urban Services Department (USD) is now making arrangements to take over the maintenance of the pitch - and maybe even the management of the Stadium - from Wembley.
'We have been told to be ready to step in,' said USD spokesman Cynthia Tong. 'As soon as the Board of Governors of the Stadium make a decision, we will move in.' On Saturday, the Urban Council and Wembley met to negotiate the management contract. The meeting lasted only 10 minutes due to the gulf between both parties on the pitch issue.
It is now learnt that Wembley may have their 10-year contract, which runs until 2004, terminated and the management handed over to the USD.
Patch-up work could probably start after May 24 on which day the Stadium will host the double-header soccer exhibition featuring Paris Saint-Germain and Ajax Amsterdam against local sides Rangers and Instant-Dict respectively.
Wembley has already been notified not to take any bookings after this date.
The protracted and ongoing battle between the provisional Urban Council and Wembley has resulted in dashed hopes of the pitch problems being laid to rest for good.
'We won't be able to do any comprehensive work this summer. That is definite,' said Tong.
For the USD to carry out any significant work on the pitch, they will have to follow government procedure and call for tenders.
'There won't be time to do all that. If our staff can handle it we will do our best to improve the pitch on our own,' said Tong.
Yesterday a senior Wembley official ruled out the possibility of starting the proposed reconstruction work with an eye to opening the Stadium for the new season in September/October.
'The deadlines we were given by our contractors have passed. Now it is impossible to start work,' said Simon Hill, deputy general manager of Wembley International.
The work would have involved completely digging up the pitch and laying down a new layer of soil.
The postponement, for one more year, has left sports officials in dismay.
'It now looks as if we will have a temporary job done on the pitch for another year. We were very concerned with the state of the pitch at this year's Hong Kong Sevens and hoped for improvement next year,' said Dave Roberts, Hong Kong Rugby Football Union commercial manager.
Hong Kong Football Association spokesman Miranda Yu said they certainly hoped the pitch problem would be solved as soon as possible.
'We're the users and we hope something can be done to correct the pitch so it can be available for our games next season,' Yu said. 'It doesn't matter what work they carry out as long as it's a satisfactory surface which we can use throughout the season.
'Of course we would want major reconstruction instead of remedial work. As a constant hirer of the Hong Kong Stadium, we expect the surface to be up to a satisfactory level.
'It would be logical to have major reconstruction on it as they tried remedial work on it two years ago and it didn't work.
'We are not the technical experts on this matter. We would have to leave it to the experts.
'We want to make it clear that we want a satisfactory pitch.'