Hong Kong Stadium pitch needs replacing, expert group says

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 November, 2013, 4:30am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

An expert group has recommended that the pitch at the Hong Kong Stadium be replaced to save the city a repeat of the international embarrassment of the summer when a soccer match involving Manchester United was almost called off because of the poor state of the grass.

It also calls for the use of hi-tech "growth lights" to ensure turf growth is always healthy.

Initial estimates obtained by the group are that the work will take about nine months and cost no more than HK$100 million. The proposals will be tabled for discussion at Friday's meeting of the Legislative Council's home affairs panel.

The recommendations follow a two-month study by the government-appointed group, which comprises local and overseas turf experts and representatives from sports groups and government departments.

Turf experts were called in in late August after the quality of the pitch became a gigantic headache in July during the Barclays Asia Trophy and Manchester United's exhibition match.

The government blamed the problem on heavy rain. The pitch, sodden and muddy after days of torrential downpours and with bald patches in the centre of the field where grass had been kicked up, became an international laughing stock. The pitch was closed for 53 days for emergency repairs and maintenance and reopened on September 21.

Last month the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) said the problem was not caused by the heavy rains but by a burst pipe in the underground sprinkling system.

"Having studied in detail test data on the current condition of the stadium pitch and its expected usage, the expert group recommended that … the entire pitch should be reconstructed, including redesigning and replacing the drainage and irrigation systems, and replacing the entire soil structure and the turf," said the Home Affairs Bureau in a paper to be distributed to legislators.

The government had earlier wanted to replace only the top layer of the turf pitch.

"[The new approach] is to enhance the long-term quality and durability of the pitch," said Raymond Young Lap-moon, permanent secretary for home affairs.

Young said the plan was to start work in the first quarter of 2015. He said it was unavoidable that some local soccer matches might have to be staged elsewhere during the closure of the stadium.

"We understand the Rugby Sevens is an important international event. So, we are now planning to start the reconstruction of the pitch after the Sevens in 2015," Young said.

The expert group also proposed imposing stricter restrictions on the groups or individuals renting the stadium to host events, including banning the erection of stages and other structures on the turf pitch and not leasing out the stadium for sports events during the rainy season in July and August.

The HKFA welcomed the expert group's recommendations. Association director Pui Kwan-kay said he believed that the use of "growth lights" could make the grass grow more healthily.

Because of the design of the stadium, some parts of it are in the shadow of the roof for most of the time and thus the grass there cannot receive enough sunlight to grow properly.