A pitch for the 21st century
Sports Hub stadia chief says National Stadium field, similar to Wembley's, will be ready for next month's rugby showpiece
Alex Ferguson wrote of his disbelief when Chelsea's skipper and talisman, John Terry, slipped on the artificial pitch as he struck the penalty that would have won the Champions League title for the London side.
It was May 21, 2008 at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium, and Terry's shot went wide off the post to give Manchester United a lifeline in the final, which they took, eventually winning 6-5 to leave Terry a sobbing wreck.
A footballer will not suffer such a misfortune at Singapore's new National Stadium - at least not because of a problem with the playing surface.
The first in Asia to use the reinforced grass of the Desso GrassMaster, the pitch at the 55,000-capacity stadium will have good traction, modifiable levels of hardness and ball bounce on a surface that will stay consistently playable despite facing an already hectic year's schedule of around 90 events.
There has been much speculation over whether the state-of-the-art surface will be ready in time for the inaugural World Club 10s rugby tournament (June 21 and 22), which is slated to be the opening sports event at the stadium, the crown jewel of the $1.33 billion Singapore Sports Hub at Kallang.
The consortium is operating on a tight timeline, having to ensure the grass populates and turns what is now a somewhat barren surface into a lush carpet of green that can hold up to the harsh test of rugby.
After a tour and presentation to the media yesterday, Greg Gillin, the Sports Hub's senior director of stadia, said: "The playing surface will be ready for rugby, it will look very different in a couple of weeks.
"(The National Stadium) will be like the new Wembley, absolutely, we aim to make it the premier stadium in Asia."
Gillin then gave an insight into the $800,000 GrassMaster pitch, which features six artificial fibre strips that are stitched 18 centimetres into the ground at two-centimetre intervals across the surface.
The fibre strips act as anchors for the roots of the natural grass, providing maximum stability, even in harsh conditions.
"The main benefit of this surface is its safety element - there won't be slipping. It will be a surface that actually allows the players to play 100 per cent, and give the fans the best experience," said Gillin.
"We want to avoid mistakes that were made at other stadiums."
This GrassMaster was preferred over the traditional "lay and play" surface as well as an artificial surface like the one at the Jalan Besar Stadium.
While artificial surfaces are longer lasting, they may not pass muster with some international sports associations - like athletics and cricket - for elite level competitions.
A "lay and play" surface may result in players slipping and sliding, if the roots of the grass do not have enough time to sink in.
The Luzhniki Stadium will be remembered for the Terry incident, which experts believe occurred because the "lay and play" surface was pulled over the stadium's original artificial turf.
Wembley tried three different surfaces before deciding to go with the GrassMaster surface.
"The "lay and play" surface will need to be replaced four to five times a year at a cost of some $500,000 each time, this (the GrassMaster) does not need to be changed," said Gillin.
"And even if we do lose some grass, we can still play a game on it, we'll only lose out on the aesthetics (in terms of the lushness of the grass)."
The benefits don't stop there - with a sand-based sub-surface system, the GrassMaster drains water around 11 times faster than natural grass surfaces - at a rate of 600 millimetres per hour.
By National Environment Agency standards, 50mm per hour is considered extreme rainfall.
And the surface is designed to withstand multi-event use, with short turnaround times.
Gillin revealed that they went through 22 different types of grass in a test period of 15 months, to make sure they got things right for the first surface of its kind in Asia.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL STADIUM'S NEW PITCH
- Cost of surface: $800,000
- Tech specs: 3% fibre, 97% natural grass. One artificial fibre strip every 20mm for a total of 114 million strips to anchor the turf.
- Drainage: 600mm of water per hour (11x better than natural grass surfaces)
- Usage: 90 events per year, targeted ceiling of 110 events. More than double the average stadium use of 35-50 events per year.
- Other stadia with this surface: Wembley Stadium, Corinthians Stadium, Emirates Stadium
Big task to get walkways and carparks ready
There were muddy tracks, slabs of broken concrete that passed for roads and steel rods strewn this way and that - all par for the course for a construction site that was also typically pockmarked by piles of rubble and excavators.
This was the state-of-the-art Singapore Sports Hub, less than four weeks away from hosting its first international sporting event.
Singapore Sports Hub Pte Ltd, the consortium that runs the 35-hectare facility at Kallang, is pulling out all the stops to complete the construction of its sporting venues, but the public spaces between facilities could prove to be another huge challenge.
With covered walkways looking some way from completion, some pavements unfit - indeed, unsafe - for public use, and carparks still not ready, the Hub is poised for a difficult transition from the construction phase of the $1.33 billion project, to handling operational matters.
Responding to queries from The New Paper yesterday, Philippe Collin Delavaud, chief executive of the consortium, said: "As we move towards the operational stages during this phased approach, we are working closely with government agencies to ensure a smooth transition, and that we deliver a safe and accessible facility to all Singaporeans."
The Sports Hub's phased opening was originally scheduled to kick off last month, but its first facility - the OCBC Aquatic Centre - was unveiled only on Monday.
Speaking at the sidelines of the event three days ago, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) Lawrence Wong, said the completion of the sports facilities on time was only the "first part" of the Hub's job in getting the facility ready.
"It's not just about completion of construction, but also about transitioning from construction to commissioning and operations, and that's really the most critical phase in any major project like this," said Mr Wong then, pointing out that crowd control, traffic management and even clear signages around the facility - all operational factors that will ultimately contribute to public assessment of the Hub - could be an onerous exercise.
"You can be sure there will be teething issues."
In addition to walkways, parking could be another major issue.
The carparks at the Hub didn't look ready when the media visited the National Stadium yesterday, and there could be a ready-made solution to that: the vast open-air carpark space in front of the adjacent Kallang Leisure Park.
Delavaud did not address the carpark issue specifically, and said: "This is the first development of its kind in Singapore and even the region, and one of the largest in the world.
"The scale and multiple facets of this project mean that we must conduct very thorough testing of systems and ramp up operations at a controlled pace.
"This is not uncommon for major infrastructure developments. Rest assured that we are working closely with government agencies on these plans, and will be sharing details soon once confirmed."
The Sports Hub will host three events next month - the TYR South-east Asia Swimming Championships presented by Yakult (June 16- 24) at the 6,000-seater Aquatic Centre, the 6th World University Floorball Championship (June 18-22) at the OCBC Arena, and World Club 10s rugby tournament at the crown jewel, the 55,000-capacity National Stadium - before its community-event opening on June 27 and 28.
All three have been designated as test events in the lead-up to the opening of the Hub.