Will Asia Trophy be back? Pitch woes put Hong Kong host at risk of losing out
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has confirmed the Hong Kong Football Association’s worst fears – that the fiasco over the Hong Kong Stadium pitch has seriously damaged their standing in the eyes of the league, and the Barclays Asia Trophy may be unlikely to return for some time, unless the quality of the pitch is greatly improved.
Speaking to Hong Kong media, Scudamore insisted all week that the embarrassing state of the pitch and the relatively small stadium compared to other venues in Asia would have no bearing on their decision over where to hold the 2015 edition of the tournament. But he sang a different tune to the English papers.
“Obviously there are lessons to be learned, there always is,” he said. “We’re not hiding from the fact that the pitch has been very difficult.
“I think we probably are going to have to put some stricter criteria on pitch provision.
“We will make pitch quality and pitch durability, sustainability and preparation very important criteria. It is important now, but I think as [Tottenham groundsman] Darren Baldwin said, if you have a deluge like they had, no matter what pitch you’re on there is going to be issues with the water.”
Baldwin took over efforts to save the pitch for day two of the tournament, with the Premier League believed to be completely unimpressed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's ground staff.
Scudamore also suggested that Singapore, which is to open a Sports Hub next year while the Hong Kong government continues to stall on its own planned Sports Hub, has stolen a march on Hong Kong for future Asia Trophies.
“I can’t ever see us not doing a tournament in Asia, so every other year I’m absolutely sure we will be coming back to Asia,” he added.
“We won’t make it bigger by numbers, but we might take more teams to different places.
“If we were to expand it, there would be more venues rather than more teams, so one in Asia, maybe one in Africa, America, something like that.
“In Singapore next year, they are opening a Desso-pitched, closing-roof stadium, so places like that are going to be in contention.”
The much-delayed Sports Hub project at Kai Tak is expected to have a 50,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof, which would have eliminated this week’s issues with the pitch.
Brian Leung Hung-tak, the HKFA chairman, earlier warned that fans will be deprived of the chance to watch Premier League soccer in future if the standard of the pitch could not be assured, and said he was ashamed by surface, images of which made HK a laughing stock for millions of television viewers around the world.
“Hong Kong have now hosted the Asia Trophy three times and we, of course, want it back again and again in future,” he said. “But I find it difficult to raise the request to the Premier League after what happened over the last couple of days.
“The government must guarantee the quality of the pitch or I don’t think the tournament will be back ever.”
Leung said Tottenham, one of the three Premier League sides featured in this year’s tournament, almost refused to start against South China on Saturday.
“They were not happy with the sand quality that were brought to fill up the waterlogged area of the pitch as they found small rocks and broken shells there. It was very embarrassing,” said Leung. “The Premier League has given us credit for everything – the organisation, hospitality, support services, logistics and even the set-up at the Hong Kong Stadium, but not the pitch, that has let them down seriously.
“The government has an obligation to solve the problem sooner and not later, not only because they are making profit from the tournament but also because it’s about Hong Kong’s international image as the matches were broadcast worldwide.”
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which runs the operations of the stadium, received a 20 per cent levy on the total gate receipts for the tournament. With the two-day accumulated income coming close to HK$27 million this year, the government was set to receive more than HK$5 million.
Leung reiterated the importance of the Asia Trophy, not only because of the top quality soccer for fans, but also the development work conducted by the Premier League.
“They have brought in coaches to help our community programmes and quality referees to help raise the standard of ours. They are a very good partner in promoting the sport at all levels,” said Leung.