Full time for Wembley

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 May, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 May, 1998, 12:00am

News that Wembley International has been given its marching orders from the Hong Kong Stadium will be received with a communal sigh of relief loud enough for residents in the vicinity to complain. Wrangles over an $18 million pitch replacement programme have brought about a final breach between the company and the Provisional Urban Council. But it would be optimistic to assume that this is the end of the stadium's problems, or that all the blame can be heaped on management's shoulders.

The PUC also contributed to the four-year fiasco notable for questions of noise pollution, a waterlogged pitch, international pop concerts which never materialised, and give-away gloves to pop fans so they could clap without disturbing the neighbourhood. Even the Jockey Club, which donated $850 million towards the rebuilding of the $1 billion stadium in So Kon Po, erred by not insisting that a proper feasibility study was carried out before the work went ahead. This time, it is hoped that new arrangements will mark a fresh start for the stadium, at least as a sporting venue. That will entail solving problems which have dogged the pitch since its inception, restoring it to prime condition by late summer, and ensuring it is fit to host major sporting events like the Rugby Sevens.

But the biggest challenge facing the council could be finding a company to take over the management. Given the acrimonious history between themselves and the outgoing team, plus the council's undistinguished record in reaching decisions, suitable replacements may shy away from the job. And Hong Kong taxpayers would possibly feel very apprehensive at the prospect of Urban Services running the place itself.

If Hong Kong Stadium is ever to throw off its white elephant image, it must have professional management who know what they are taking on, and can come up with a realistic plan to turn it into the kind of sporting and entertainment venue it was intended to be.

A shocked stadium staff face an uncertain future, at least until the mess is sorted out. The sorry saga now hinges on whether the council wins damages if Wembley International seeks compensation for the termination of its contract, to add to the taxpayers' $3 million bill.