HONG KONG'S overseas image as an international sporting venue of reliability and repute has been placed in peril by political posturing and a disregard for what is the central issue. I am referring to the news that plans have been immediately halted to replace the dreadful pitch at the Hong Kong Stadium which is not only totally unsuitable for any reasonable sporting event but also a complete eyesore. The latest calamitous round in what seems to be an increasingly bitter conflict between Wembley International (HK) Ltd, the management company of the Hong Kong Stadium, and the Board of Governors from the Urban Council, came on Friday. Wembley sought to change conditions attached to the $18.7 million turf replacement project and ran into a not unexpected fresh barrage of criticism which has led to immediate calls for its management contract to be cancelled. Just which party is moving the goalposts seems somewhat clouded but this is not the central issue. Wembley wants to change the conditions because it says the Board of Governors altered an agreement in relation to just who would decide whether the replacement pitch was satisfactory. Wembley's contract up to 2004 hinges on the new pitch doing the job and, given its less than rosy relations with the Hong Kong Stadium controllers, a third party would be the best arbiter. Fred Li Wah-ming wants Wembley's contract terminated now and has a list of 13 incidents - not related to the latest pitch controversy - where, he claims, Wembley has disappointed the Board of Governors. Fine, Fred. Fire Wembley. And are you going to get out with a spade and fork and fix this abomination? That is what matters and the latest bickerings, posturings and certain self-interest simply put in jeopardy what must be done. And that is replacing the Hong Kong Stadium pitch. I am not flying any flag for Wembley International and I don't give a damn about the Board Of Governors, but the Hong Kong sporting fraternity and the paying public do not deserve to suffer further. There is a lot at stake here - and I don't mean the Hong Kong Sevens, either. Forgive me if I am less than sympathetic, but to suggest that this annual booze-up for the fans and benefit outing for Fiji is 'in great peril' because of the halt to replacement pitch plans, is just a bit over the top. The hybrid Sevens game is scarcely noted for being played on the ground so it is safe to assume that the actual state of the pitch has considerably less bearing on rugby than it does on football. In the next four years, football is going to mean even more in this part of the world than it does now - and that's saying something. The next World Cup will be jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea and, to my certain knowledge, a sizeable number of some of the world's best known national teams are or will be seeking games and tours to this part of the globe. The SAR, politically and financially stable and with a high international profile, will be targeted by a number of teams intent on playing in Asia prior to the World Cup. But the Germanys and Brazils of this world do not play on pitches like that at So Kon Po. Matches involving top footballing nations would be spread out over the four years and would bring obvious financial advantages to the the Hong Kong Football Association, the Hong Kong Stadium managers - and entertainment to local fans. That is looking at the higher levels. But why should local football competitions - Olympic and World Cup qualifying games, the annual Carlsberg Cup and Asian Club tournaments - continue to be played on a totally inadequate surface? Recriminations are useless. The stark fact is that Hong Kong has a superb sporting arena and a pitch that is a disgrace. That has long been recognised and $18.7 million has been found to replace the present surface. The SAR's sporting community cannot be betrayed and its overseas image and reputation tarnished because of the bickering and in-fighting between the stadium's operators and its controllers. If the Board of Controllers want Wembley out, then terminate the agreement - but in turn they must guarantee that the pitch will be satisfactorily replaced by next September. And if Wembley wants to keep the position, then get the job done. Both sides in this dispute will stand totally condemned if these replacement pitch plans are halted.