Perfecting the pitch

Perfecting the pitch

Last week, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong told Parliament that problems with the grass pitch at the National Stadium were caused by SportsHub Pte Ltd (SHPL) taking three months longer than expected to complete the project.

The delay meant that there was not enough time for the grass to grow and stabilise. SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ finds out how SPHL is now getting the National Stadium pitch into tip-top shape for the AFF Suzuki Cup on Nov 23.

1. LIGHTS

To speed up growth of the grass, $1.5 million worth of special lighting equipment was purchased from the Netherlands to mimic sunlight.

The lights, which come in the form of a grid of retractable arms lined with hundreds of bulbs, have been deployed since Oct 7.

They are switched on for four hours and then shut off for two. This goes on for 24 hours a day and the lights are moved around the pitch according to experts' advice on which segments need more light.

English Premier League clubs use the same system during winter to maintain the quality of their pitches.

2. WATER

The pitch at the National Stadium uses the Desso GrassMaster system of natural and synthetic grass. In the process of selecting the natural grass, the Sports Hub tested "over 20 types in a 15-month-long process", and decided on rye and blue grass.

But temperatures of about 30 deg C cause the grass to stop growing as its ideal temperature for growth is 20 to 25 degrees C. As a result, groundsmen have to reduce by 10 degrees C the temperature of the water used to water the pitch.

3. FANS

Long before The New Paper's exclusive Oct 9 report sparked efforts to improve the quality of the pitch, large industrial fans could be seen at the sides of the National Stadium's pitch.

Their presence was conspicuous when Italian giants Juventus arrived to play against a Singapore Selection side in the stadium's first football game on Aug 16.

But the fans are not there to cool footballers down. They are there to ensure the surface stays cool and dry, as stagnant water droplets on blades of grass increase the chances of diseases, which stunt growth.

4. DOME

It is iconic and turns heads. But the National Stadium's 310m-wide dome has also created some unforeseen problems for the growth of grass as it creates a "micro-climate" in itself.

The stadium is partially shaded and not all areas of the pitch get the same amount of sunshine and heat.

The western side of the arena is better-ventilated than the eastern because of the permanent opening in the structure's dome, which features a retractable roof that takes 20 minutes to fully open and reveal the entire playing field.

5. EXPERTS

More than 10 experts from different fields, such as grass, lights, fertiliser, and fungicide, have been engaged by SPHL to literally watch the grass grow. They will advise on the best ways to optimise the growth of the grass.


This article was first published on Nov 10, 2014.
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