Two blunders added to Hong Kong Stadium pitch fiasco
Dumping of 30 tonnes of sand and installation of pumps to reduce the groundwater may have made poor playing surface worse, it is claimed
Olga Wong and Danny Lee
Two mistakes were made in efforts to repair the failing Hong Kong Stadium pitch in time for last week's Barclays Asia Trophy soccer matches that may actually have made it worse, the South China Morning Post has learned.
But an overseas consultant involved in the decisions insisted there were no other choices, given the poor condition of the overworked turf, which almost caused the high-profile matches to be cancelled.
A source close to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and a local turf specialist said the errors were made in dumping a huge amount of sand on the boggy midfield and installing pumps in an effort to reduce groundwater.
The source said the department's New Zealand consultant, Alex Glasgow, instructed workers to fill the midfield with 30 tonnes of sand in pouring rain on Friday, raising the surface by 5cm.
"Instead of making the muddy pitch muddier by pouring 30 tonnes of sand onto it, they should have just left it and focused on spiking to let the grass breathe," the source said. The amount of sand was 50 per cent more than the 20 tonnes used in an average year, the source said.
Workers were also asked to drill six holes in the midfield to install the pumps.
But turf specialist Eric Lee Yin-tse said: "They wanted temporary relief by diluting the mud, but the change of level and soil composition would further worsen the drainage problem."
He added that opening six holes in the pitch would have made it more fragile. "It would threaten the safety of the players as they could slip and hurt their ankles," he said.
Lee's comments came after the government pledged to review the maintenance of the pitch and blamed the wet weather and the frequency of matches for its appalling condition.
In a reply to the Post, Glasgow said the actions taken were decided jointly with Darren Baldwin, grounds manager for one of the participating teams, Tottenham Hotspur. He said the stadium's management, the English Premier League and Hong Kong Football Association had agreed.
A source close to Premier League soccer involved with the supervision of maintenance on the pitch said the playing surface required "open-heart surgery".
The source said there had been a communications breakdown between workers and advisers and described the situation as a catastrophe of mismanagement.
Cancelling the games would have been a financial disaster.
"If that tournament hadn't happened, the costs would have run into hundreds of millions of dollars," the source said.
The quality of the sand used was blamed earlier for the problems with the pitch.
But supplier Wealth Bridge Trading Company said: "The quality of the sand met the department's specification and it was in good condition when unloaded in the stadium's car park."
It said the sand was from Guangdong's West River and was sieved on the barge delivering it.
It is understood that the department's sand cost about HK$180 a tonne, against HK$650 tonne for that on the Sai Tso Wan pitch favoured by overseas players and the national team.
Football Association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe said a well-maintained pitch should be able to cope with bad weather.