Thursday, June 6, 2013
It was once touted as the “Wembley of Malaysia”, a venue where all the Cup finals and international stature matches would be played.
But the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil, built for the 1998 Commonwealth Games, has now become the butt of jokes among football players, coaches, officials and fans.
Built at a cost of RM800mil, the stadium has a seating capacity of 90,000 and was viewed as the pride of the nation.
Fifteen years later, the pitch, once in pristine condition, is all cut up.
And this has got the new Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin all riled up. He has ordered the field to be closed for six months from October for repairs.
Khairy was spot on when he said the field did not meet international standards.
He isn't the first one to say so. Many, including international teams and clubs like Brazil and Chelsea, have condemned the pitch.
Brazil played a friendly against the national team en route to the World Cup Finals in Japan and South Korea in 2002. And they were far from pleased with the pitch condition.
Chelsea, who are scheduled to play against a Malaysian Selection on July 21, have opted for the Shah Alam Stadium after finding the National Stadium's pitch unplayable.
Last Saturday, Pahang and Johor Darul Takzim played their FA Cup semi-final second-leg match at the stadium and Pahang coach Dollah Salleh described the pitch as “imperfect”.
Dollah rated the Larkin Stadium in Johor Baru as better than the National Stadium.
Describing the pitch as an “international embarassment”, Khairy told a press conference here yesterday: “It's time for us to do an overhaul or replace the field because I have seen it. I've also got a lot of feedback from local fans.”
Khairy, who was accompanied by Deputy Minister Datuk M. Saravanan, had earlier inspected the field with stadium officials in the hot afternoon sun.
Obviously unhappy with the condition of the field, he was heard telling the officials: “I want a solution (to this).”
He said tenders for the overhaul would be announced as soon as possible.
According to Malaysian Stadium Board chief executive officer Ahmad Halmi Harun, the pitch was last changed eight years ago.
“We replaced the bermuda grass with seashore marimo paspalum,” he said.
“But cow grass is best suited for our weather condition ... because of low maintenance. However, it can get muddy when it rains and this will affect the quality too.”
Khairy said the ministry would be stricter about who would be allowed to use the field, adding that non-sports related activities might have contributed to the damage.
“Criteria and requirements for using the field will be tightened,” Khairy said.
“I don't want to say that we're going to have an outright ban (of certain activities), but we're going to have a review on events like concerts and government functions.”
According to the FIFA website, Malaysia does not have a single “Recommended 1-Star” or “2-Star” pitch. Singapore, on the other hand, has 11 “1-Star” and one “2-Star” pitches.