Staff of sodden Hong Kong Stadium pitch not up to scratch, official admits

Leisure and cultural services chief admits in Legco that employees do not meet world standards, but says no one will be punished

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 November, 2013, 10:05pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 November, 2013, 7:52am

Staff members in charge of the pitch at the Hong Kong Stadium in Causeway Bay are not up to international standards, the government has admitted.

But no one will be punished for the fiasco in July when the state of the pitch almost caused an international exhibition match to be cancelled.

Leisure and Cultural Services director Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, said employees working at the stadium cared very much for the condition of the pitch, but "there may be a discrepancy between their professional standards and the international standards of managing pitches".

"We understand that we have to improve ourselves," Fung told lawmakers yesterday.

She said more training would be provided to staff members taking care of government pitches in the next five years.

Fung was addressing the Legislative Council home affairs panel in the face of criticism that no one in the Leisure and Cultural Services Department was being held accountable for the near-cancellation of the match between British Premier League team Manchester United and local champions Kitchee.

"Now that the department has admitted it was negligent and did something wrong … people will ask, 'Is there anyone who should be held responsible and punished?'," Kenneth Chan Ka-lok of the Civic Party said.

People Power lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen asked whether the incident involved any serious dereliction of duty or mismanagement that warranted punishment for anyone.

Fung replied: "It's for sure that [the management of the stadium] made an error of judgment", but no one would be punished.

"It's not that an official can take all the responsibility," she said. "Some factors were related to weather conditions. Some were because of the management's inability to react to an emergency … But we've asked them to improve."

Staff members responsible for taking care of the department's pitches would take turns to be sent for training, locally or internationally, in the next five years.

The department would also set up a specialised in-house team to provide professional advice on managing pitches and a foreign expert might be appointed to head the team.

The quality of the pitch at the city's top stadium became an embarrassment internationally for Hong Kong in July during the Barclays Asia Trophy and United exhibition match. British media referred to it as a "killer" pitch.

The pitch was sodden and muddy after days of torrential rain and bald patches appeared in the centre of the field where grass had been kicked up.

Turf experts were consulted in late August. They suggested the department replace the pitch in the first quarter of 2015 at an estimated HK$100 million. The stadium spends about HK$2.3 million a year in manpower and materials for pitch maintenance.