Artificial turf call by soccer chief after outcry over pitch

Head of the Football Association says Hong Kong Stadium's grass should be replaced with a 'hybrid' surface that uses synthetic fibres

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 July, 2013, 7:37am

The head of organised soccer in the city has called for the removal of the much-criticised playing surface at Hong Kong Stadium in favour of a hybrid one used at Wembley Stadium in London.

Mark Sutcliffe, chief executive of the Football Association, said he wanted the current natural grass pitch to be replaced with a hybrid variety made up "mainly" of natural grass, with synthetic fibres injected into the surface to protect its quality.

Outlining his preferred option, Sutcliffe said the surface had been "tried and tested" at Wembley Stadium, England's national soccer venue, and by more than half the country's Premier League stadiums.

But Dr Eric Lee Yin-tse, a 38-year veteran of turf management on pitches and racecourses, said hybrid grass with artificial fibres should not be an option.

With the frequent changes of weather, the plastic fibre would break and pieces would end up in the soil, hampering the growth of grass, he said.

"Why should we give up natural grass because of the [Leisure and Cultural Services] department's incompetent management? It doesn't make sense."

An intense schedule of five soccer matches in five days, combined with heavy rain and poor maintenance, wreaked havoc on the pitch during the Barclays Asia Trophy tournament. Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing later apologised for the substandard surface and promised a review.

According to Sutcliffe, after an emergency meeting to fix problems after two games had been played, the department failed to deploy enough maintenance equipment, although cricket clubs provided drainage machinery and covers for the pitch.

He said a replacement pitch was needed as soon as possible. A sports venue at Kai Tak due to open at the end of the decade was several years too far away, Sutcliffe said. He put forward three other recommendations to the South China Morning Post:

  • Implement recommendations for maintenance put forward by the consultant hired this year, and "see if it improves";
  • At the end of next season, replace the surface with a "like-for-like" pitch;
  • Tear up the pitch and replace it with an artificial pitch that would be acceptable for rugby.

Sutcliffe said he was prepared to lose a season to put things right, "which would be the worst-case scenario". In the meantime, "[the department] should implement [the consultant's] maintenance programme".

But it was too late to produce a replacement in time for South China's first game of the new season in September, he said. Above all, the venue lacked enough skilled staff, he said. "I don't believe there is specific expertise at the top level to make sure the maintenance programme is in accordance with what you expect of a national stadium."