Getting the pitch right

Getting the pitch right

The Singapore Sports Hub did the nation proud at the prestigious World Architecture Festival awards earlier this month. In doing so, it joined the iconic league of the Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands in defining Singapore's evolving skyline. On the ground, too, the Sports Hub could make its distinguishing mark as an important destination that integrates sports, leisure and mass activities.

Sadly, however, the attention to detail apparent in the planning and execution of the project, that has set it apart architecturally, has not been matched in the development of the National Stadium's pitch.

After all, for all its offerings in leisure and entertainment, the Sports Hub essentially is a sporting venue whose raison d'etre is the stadium and its playing field. Its patchy and sandy pitch thus represents an astonishing lapse that must be addressed swiftly if it is not to count as a national disgrace.

A warning has been sounded by Sport Singapore chief Lim Teck Yin when he said that "the sub-standard readiness of the pitch" was "far from being satisfactory" and that it was a "significant disappointment". Other rebukes, both within Singapore and abroad, have been even less diplomatic. Sports Hub officials must treat this scrutiny as an opportunity to show the management team's ability to recover quickly and deliver only the highest standards.

Perhaps the toughest and most immediate decision is for officials to ask themselves whether the pitch needs a breather so that the grass can take root firmly. The grass needs to be of a certain quality to withstand the multiple uses to which the pitch will be put.

It could be argued that the hub was being overly ambitious in lining up a number of high-profile events soon after opening. Delays in construction meant that it had weeks and not months to swing into action with its programmes. This is the time for introspection on whether a heavy schedule is sustainable.

Beyond the immediate future, those at the helm of the hub must strive to live up to the promise of the public-private partnership scheme under which it was built. This evolving business model has many facets and is based on nurturing a long-term partnering relationship. As Sports Hub chief operating officer and former Olympian Oon Jin Teik noted: "We need both the public and private sectors dancing together to make this project work."

This includes forging a sensible approach to the use and care of the pitch so that it can accommodate a balanced line-up of major sporting events, commercial programmes, and large-scale community activities. Technology can give the pitch a boost but it's essentially composed of a living organism that will need time to recover if over-stressed.

This article was first published on Oct 17, 2014.
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