Crucial decision on Suzuki Cup opener by next week

Crucial decision on Suzuki Cup opener by next week
The National Stadium pitch at the Sports Hub.

THE Singapore Sports Hub will find out next week if it is still able to host the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.

Officials from SportsHub Pte Ltd (SHPL) and AFF officials met for two hours yesterday afternoon at the National Stadium without deciding whether the biennial regional championship will still kick off with a Singapore-Thailand opener on Nov 23.

An AFF spokesman said: "Today's discussion with the Singapore Sports Hub saw all parties committed to finding a solution to the issue of the National Stadium pitch. AFF will deliberate on this matter and make a considered decision by next week."

But The Straits Times understands that both parties are still keen to host the matches in Singapore and SHPL was at pains to show that it is confident of delivering a quality pitch on time.

At the heart of the issue is AFF's regulation that stadiums should not be used for any other matches or events for a minimum of 15 working days prior to the AFF Cup's first match to ensure that the turf is in good condition.

However, Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou is holding a concert at the same venue on Nov 8 and an exhibition rugby match between the Maori All Blacks and Asia Pacific Dragons will be held on Nov 15.

Sources said that even if the rugby game is cancelled to satisfy the AFF ruling, the Maori outfit is committed to come here and conduct a workshop at the very least.

Singapore rugby officials are also worried about tainting the Republic's reputation at a time when it is bidding to host the Sevens World Series and Super Rugby matches.

It is believed that the AFF was willing to compromise on the 15-day deadline, had the National Stadium pitch been in a better state.

However, during the cordial meeting yesterday, SHPL officials are understood to have presented alternative plans that AFF is seriously considering.

Already, the hybrid turf made of natural grass reinforced with artificial fibre inserts has taken plenty of flak for its sandy condition. Even after $1.5 million worth of special lighting was purchased a fortnight ago to help the grass grow, the pitch still continues to suffer growing pains, as evident in Tuesday's international friendly between Japan and Brazil.

While the ball bobbled over the sandy and bumpy surface, it came as a relief that none of the players was injured as a result of the pitch's condition.

Encouraged by early results from the growth lights, Sports Hub senior director (stadia) Greg Gillin said on Monday that the pitch will be "a little bit better" for the opening Suzuki Cup clash.

"We are confident it will be playable, which means the ball will roll normally," said Mr Gillin, who previously worked for London's Wembley Stadium.

While officials insist the humidity and differing sunlight levels within the stadium are unlike those of any other facility in the world, questions have been raised over the testing of different grass during the construction phase.

According to one insider, the effect of the domed roof on the grass was not simulated during 15-month trials at the Orchid Country Club.

Hub consultant Alex Garbea, who was responsible for the Arena Corinthians project that was named the best field at the recent World Cup, also noted that the pitch at the Brazil facility was in place before its roof.

The Romanian said: "In Singapore, the field was put in after the dome, which means you have less flexibility and options to get it growing right as you have to work around other factors."

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