On the Scene - Row Erupts Over Pitch at World Cup Stadium

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FIFA's pitch expert Richard Hayden insists the pitch will be up to standard for the World Cup (WFI/ O. Obayiuwana)
(WFI) South Africa World Cup officials have come under heavy fire for the problems preventing completion of the playing surface at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.

With two previous attempts to complete the turf ending in failure, a third try to complete the pitch at the 46,000-seat venue is currently being made.

Richard Hayden, FIFA’s pitch consultant, offered assurances at a press conference on Sunday that the pitch will be match ready in eight weeks.

“We had to remove the [second] pitch because it did not meet the high standards that are required for World Cup stadia”, said Hayden, who has been responsible for the installation of pitches at English Premiership clubs Arsenal and West Ham.

“The previous pitch in my view was about 20% short of the expected standard.”

“We are confident that with the good weather conditions in South Africa, we will be in a position to complete the pitch relay ahead of schedule.”

“Even in England, where the temperatures are very low, we are able to complete the installation of a pitch in a seven week period. It will certainly take less time here.”

“We can assure the world that the Nelspruit turf will be one of the very best at the World Cup,” insisted the Englishman.

Hayden's comments to reporters came on day three of the 2010 World Cup venue road show that is visiting 10 stadiums in the nine host cities in South Africa.

The seeding of the new pitch, with local rye grass, is expected to begin on Friday March 5, he confirmed. The laying of the sub-surface was nearly completed at the time of World Football Insider's visit to the stadium on Sunday.

Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary, acknowledged the need for FIFA to pay more attention to the completion of the turf, as time was fast running
Fans welcome World Cup organisers and international media to the venue (WFI/ O. Obayiuwana)

“We are going to receive daily reports on the relaying of this pitch and our experts are also going to be stationed here to ensure that the work is completed on schedule,” Valcke said.

“Unlike some other venues being used for the World Cup, like the Loftus Stadium in Pretoria, this ground will not be in use until the World Cup, so there is enough time to put things in place.”

South African newspapers have reported that squabbling between Nelspruit city officials and the Mpumalanga provincial government has been responsible for the delay in the completion of the stadium, with allegations of corruption being made in the award of key contracts.

But David Mabuza, the premier of the Mpumalanga province, in which the stadium is located, insisted that they have been transparent.

“We can assure the people of the province and indeed, the South African people, that we are accountable in the way that we have managed resources for the construction of the stadium,” Mabuza said.

“We acknowledge that we have some problems with the completion of the pitch but we are confident that everything will be completed in good time.”

“This stadium deserves nothing less than a world-class pitch for the World Cup and when we discovered that it was not up to the standards and there was time to resolve the problem, it was not hard to take a decision to relay the pitch,” Mabuza said.

During a subsequent visit to the Bloemfontein venue, Valcke put David Smith, the Africa correspondent of the London-based Guardian newspaper, in the firing line when local fans criticised the English media’s coverage of South Africa’s World Cup preparations.

Valcke challenged Smith to respond to the allegations, compelling him to publicly address the 200 local supporters in the stadium.

Smith acknowledged the unfairness of some of the reports but insisted that the media will continue to hold the World Cup organisers to account.

With reporting from Osasu Obayiuwana in South Africa. Obayiuwana is the editor of the London-based African Football magazine.
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