National Stadium pitch fiasco: Hans Isaac finds that blades of grass do cut deep

“Saya dah jadi expert rumput sekarang (I’m now a grass expert). To be honest, elemen-elemen yang diperlukan untuk rumput semua saya dah tahu sekarang (I now know all the elements required for grass).”

Those were the words of Malaysia Stadium Board (PSM) chairman, Datuk Hans Isaac, during his appearance on a Harimau Malaya podcast that was uploaded on YouTube on Oct 16.

Snippets of that video continue to make their rounds as Isaac has come under fire in recent days over what seems to be the poor state of the football pitch at the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil that will host the Malaysia Cup final tonight.

British band Coldplay had performed to a sold-out crowd at the iconic stadium in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 22. Following the event, the condition of the field became a talking point, as PSM raced against time to ensure that the pitch was playable for the final between Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) and Terengganu FC.

Yet, images of the recently refurbished field that were widely shared showed worrying patches of unsightly yellows and browns. It even caught the attention of the Crown Prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail Ibrahim, who owns JDT and had invested in the new pitch. Tunku Ismail sarcastically told Isaac that the latter’s ‘formula’ of getting the pitch ready, “was working”.

Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Adam Adli Abd Halim was quoted by Astro Arena yesterday as saying, “The field is supposed to be okay, although cosmetically it doesn’t look like what it’s supposed to, but as far as its usage is concerned, it’s okay”.

Erm, okay.

PSM last night issued a statement, apologising for the less than satisfactory condition of the field. The board said it didn’t have “enough time to return the pitch to its optimum level after the Coldplay concert” and is “committed to strengthening its Standard Operating Procedure to manage events at the stadium in the future.” It stopped short of holding anyone accountable, especially that of its self-proclaimed grass expert chairman.

That apology will do little to comfort the players of the teams tonight, for their play will be severely compromised. Hopefully, none of them will pick up any injuries. A not-so-good showing will only disappoint the fans, many of whom will be travelling hundreds of kilometres, either from the East Coast, or from down south, to cheer for their state teams.

It remains to be seen if the result of the match, or the condition of the pitch, will be the talking point after the final whistle is blown.

The debacle has also got certain quarters questioning Isaac’s appointment as PSM chairman. The former actor turned businessman, is a Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) man, who had aspirations of contesting in the 15th General Election held in November last year but didn’t make the cut.

Having served as the National Film Development Corporation chairman during Pakatan Harapan’s first brief stint in Putrajaya after the 2018 elections, Isaac was tipped to assume the top seat at PSM. In March, this writer asked Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on X (formerly known as Twitter) if it was true that the new PSM chairman was a celebrity from Ampang. Three months later, Isaac was given the post.

Some argued that Isaac’s experience in the entertainment world would help rejuvenate PSM. The stadium operator makes more money from renting its venues to concert organisers, instead of sports associations, who often get the space at a discounted rate. The earnings then go back to maintaining the arenas and its surrounding areas – evident over the past two years.

In the spirit of accountability and transparency, perhaps Isaac can reveal how much PSM makes from concerts, compared to football matches. Are those payments made on time, and in full?

Also, in the spirit of accountability, will Issac now admit that he isn’t a grass expert, and will he get the real experts to explain the situation affecting the newly laid field?

Will the stadium operators temporarily close the National Stadium (yet again) to allow the grass to grow? Will it finally change the structure of the roof to ensure there’s more sunlight?

Hopefully, no one will be made into a scapegoat for this episode. Accountability starts from the very top.

It’s also time for big matches to be played outside the nation’s capital. This will enable the locals to enjoy the spillover effects. Football fans aren’t just from the Klang Valley.

While the concerned parties figure out their narratives to cushion the bad press that’s sure to follow, here’s what Ricky Gervais said to a room full of actors and celebrities toward the end of his monologue at the 2020 Golden Globes:

“So, if you do win an award tonight, don’t use it as a platform to make a political speech. You’re in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg. So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your God, and (expletive deleted) off, okay?”

It’s time Malaysia starts appointing people who know something about the real world. Let’s start with someone who actually knows how to oversee the running of the nation’s stadium board. And about grass.

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