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National Stadium pitch to get yet another makeover

SINGAPORE — After months of tinkering and more than S$2 million ploughed in, the National Stadium appeared to have finally fixed its pitch woes at last month’s Causeway Challenge, where the lay and play field earned praise from players and fans alike for its aesthetics and playability.

National Stadium pitch to get yet another makeover

Manu Sawhney, CEO of SportsHub. Photo: Jason Quah

SINGAPORE — After months of tinkering and more than S$2 million ploughed in, the National Stadium appeared to have finally fixed its pitch woes at last month’s Causeway Challenge, where the lay and play field earned praise from players and fans alike for its aesthetics and playability.

However, SportsHub — the consortium tasked to design, build, finance and operate the S$1.33 billion Sports Hub project — said it is not done yet. Come February next year, the stadium pitch will get another makeover, with a new technology from the Netherlands called XtraGrass to be installed in the 55,000-seater facility in place of the current Eclipse Stabilised Turf.

Dubbed the next-generation solution by SportsHub, XtraGrass is a natural grass turf reinforced with artificial fibres to allow for natural grass playability while making it more resistant to wear. A German underground system called Osmo-Drain will also be used to cultivate the soil, introduce moisture, supply fertiliser and oxygen, and extract pollutants.

Manu Sawhney, CEO of SportsHub, said in an interview this week that the plan is to install XtraGrass in the National Stadium in February, ahead of the rugby fixtures scheduled for March and April involving the Sunwolves, the Japanese Super Rugby franchise, and the HSBC Singapore Rugby Sevens.

“We now have a clear pitch strategy for the next 12 months based on all the data analytics that we’ve done over the past 24 months,” said Sawhney. “Since you’re looking at bringing the pitch in and out and trying to revive it, that optimises the process. We think the technology should help. This is the first time it will be used in Asia. We are trying to be innovative, we are trying to be bold and, if things go right, great, if things don’t go right, we will learn from it and 
improve.”

XtraGrass is the third pitch solution to be installed at the stadium since the Sports Hub opened its doors in June 2014.

The initial Desso GrassMaster system — a hybrid turf of synthetic fibres and natural grass — which cost an estimated S$830,000 and drew brickbats for the sandy nature of the pitch, was eventually replaced by the lay-and-play natural pitch a year later.

Aside from its pitch issues, the Sports Hub also had to weather several other storms over the past two years. These included roof leaks at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and National Stadium, event organisers griping about the high costs of holding events at the stadium, and reports of senior staff resignations and low staff morale.

Sawhney, who joined SportsHub last October, called the past 12 months a learning experience. “Like all journeys in life, and like life itself, there are highs and lows. We’ve also had our challenges and all that we can do is keep calm and work. As a team (we are) learning from this and moving on,” he said.

“We still have more to do, with the team committed to reviewing and refining the processes. We feel we have a good balance of events and community outreach next year that we can build on.”

From January to September this year, the Sports Hub hosted a total of 134 events — 70 of which were sports events — across all its venues, with attendance hitting 905,550 over nine months. The company expects the year-end figure to eclipse that of 2015, when 1.55 million people attended its 146 events throughout the year.

While the uncertain economic climate could prove challenging for Singapore sports in 2017, Sawhney said it is crucial that the Sports Hub delivers more value to its clients and customers.

Pointing to the success of this year’s Rugby Sevens, which drew a crowd of close to 50,000 in its inaugural edition, he said: “The question for us is, how do we build value, because it is a world-class facility? How do you leverage the facilities to be able to provide a value that people are willing to come and pay for?

“This myth that it cannot be done, I think, has been broken with events like Rugby Sevens, where people have come and enjoyed themselves, and we want to build on it in the second year.”

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