Sports Hub drops claims over damage to National Stadium pitch

It was meant to be the crown jewel of Singapore sports and the epicentre of top entertainment acts.

But since opening less than two years ago, the Singapore Sports Hub has had to deal with pitch woes and stalled negotiations with promoters due to the high charges it levied.

In the latest episode to plague the $1.33 billion facility, The Sunday Times has learnt that operator SportsHub Pte Ltd (SHPL) has decided not to impose charges on hirers - among them the Government - after the National Stadium pitch was damaged during events held there in July and August last year.

It is understood that SHPL had been locked in talks for almost six months with organisers of the Youth Celebrate! event over who should bear the cost of damage to the turf. The joint arts and sports extravaganza last July marked Youth Day as well as the official opening of the Sports Hub. It was co-organised by the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) for the nation's jubilee year.

According to documents seen by The Sunday Times, SHPL requested that Youth Celebrate! organisers cover two-thirds of the cost of fixing patches and other issues on the "lay-and-play" pitch before it was used again for the World Cup football qualifiers in October and November, and the ASEAN Para Games last month.

The bill is believed to have been just over $900,000 before goods and services tax. This included consultancy fees to Melbourne-based HG Sports Turf, which is providing the warm weather grass system as part of a three-year deal with the Sports Hub.

In a statement to The Sunday Times yesterday, SHPL chief executive Manu Sawhney said talks were held with national sports agency Sport Singapore regarding the "management of third-party costs incurred to restore the pitch after events held during July and August 2015".

The Barclays Asia Trophy football tournament featuring English Premier League clubs Arsenal, Everton and Stoke City together with a Singapore Selection team, as well as the Sing50 concert of Singaporean singers, were also staged during that period.

Mr Sawhney said: "We can confirm that no charges are being levied on the hirers."

He added: "The management of the top-quality pitch in our National Stadium requires the co-operation of all users. SHPL is committed to continuing to work with all our stakeholders to constantly improve our management processes and at the same time, to educate and team up with hirers on their roles in these efforts."

SHPL declined to explain how it went from seeking partial compensation from Youth Celebrate! organisers to footing the bill entirely.

Asked about the matter, an MCCY spokesman noted SHPL's decision not to levy any charges, and added that it "gleaned valuable insights from the first 18 months of operations to improve the attractiveness and accessibility of the Sports Hub for events and to the community".

A 53,000, near-capacity crowd were entertained by more than 4,000 student performers during the Youth Celebrate! showpiece. Unlike other performances at the venue, no protective covers were laid over the field as youth football matches were held there on the same day as part of the event.

The pitch has been a thorny issue for the Sports Hub since the National Stadium opened its doors two years ago.

Its original $800,000 Desso GrassMaster field, a hybrid surface made up of synthetic fibres and natural cool weather grass, was unable to grow and take root properly in Singapore's heat and humidity. More than $2 million has since been invested in growth lights and a "lay-and-play" surface, grown at a Kranji nursery and transported in rolls to the Kallang venue.

The decision not to pursue charges for fixing the field will be watched closely by potential hirers, who have been concerned over the possibility of being liable for any damage even if they have followed the Sports Hub's precautionary measures.

The state of the pitch will come under scrutiny once more when it is covered for American pop star Madonna's gig on Feb 28.

Mr Michael Roche, managing director of the concert's promoter Live Nation Lushington, is of the view that his company "should not have to pay for anything" if the field is damaged due to people stepping on the protective covers.

He noted: "If there's damage caused by our equipment or additional infrastructure outside of our agreement with the Sports Hub, then it is our problem.

"There is also the issue of proving what exactly caused the damage."

This article was first published on Jan 24, 2016.
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