Why World Cup match against China cannot be held at Hong Kong Stadium

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2015, 5:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2015, 5:01pm

I refer to the article by James Porteous ("Local fans rank behind China's", November 1) regarding the arrangements for the Fifa World Cup qualifier match between Hong Kong and China on November 17.

The government is committed to providing a top-notch venue at the Hong Kong Stadium that can host world-class sporting events.

Thanks to the technical and financial support of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, a HK$31 million (not HK$100 million as reported in the article) turf pitch reconstruction project was undertaken and the pitch was reopened last week to host the Asian Rugby Sevens qualifier despite a slower than expected turf establishment due to the extreme heat in August and September.

Judging by the extensive damage by the 47 intensive matches played over the weekend, the professional advice of our local and international turf experts that the pitch would not be ready for the World Cup match on November 17 was spot on.

For the record, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department had not received any applications for use of Hong Kong Stadium in November 2015 when we approved the Hong Kong Rugby Union's booking for the Asian Rugby Sevens qualifier in December 2014. It was in mid-April 2015 when the Hong Kong Football Association informed the department of the exact date of the November 17 match after Fifa's draw. Given the extremely tight nine days' maintenance window after the Rugby Sevens qualifier for pitch restoration, the department reiterated its earlier advice to the Football Association in March that bookings for Hong Kong Stadium in November could not be entertained and a decision could only be confirmed after completing the turf pitch reconstruction and close observation of the growth of the new turf.

The department continued to liaise with the Football Association and also reserved Mong Kok Stadium and Siu Sai Wan Sports Ground for the World Cup qualifier.

We appreciate some people are disappointed that the match cannot be played in Hong Kong Stadium, but true supporters of football will understand the turf condition of the stadium plays an important role in the long-term development of football in Hong Kong.

Indeed, the government has been investing heavily in promoting football development through its substantial financial and venue support for the Football Association over the years. Let us work together to achieve our shared vision.

Raymond Fan Wai-ming, deputy director of leisure and cultural services (leisure services)