A convenient comedy of errors

02 Jul 2022 10:31am
A viral photo of spectators in a "private pool" on the grandstand watching Terengganu FC vs Negeri Sembilan FC on June 30 Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium in Gong Badak, Kuala Terengganu. (Pic from Terengganu Voice FB)
A viral photo of spectators in a "private pool" on the grandstand watching Terengganu FC vs Negeri Sembilan FC on June 30 Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium in Gong Badak, Kuala Terengganu. (Pic from Terengganu Voice FB)

The dust, or rather the flooded pitch, had barely settled at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium before sports fans were treated to bonus scenes of what's best described as comedy, as far as the state of football stadium in the country is concerned.

While the recording of an historic AFC Asian Cup qualification by the national team for the first time since the competition was expanded to 24 teams from 16 five years ago offered some respite to decades of despair and ridicule, the spotlight was no less shared by the pathetic state of the National Stadium's RM10 million pitch.

While nature did its part to expose the highly questionable quality and maintenance of the pitch, it could not save the nation from the extended dose of humor dished out by Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu and the powers in charge of the Shah Alam Stadium and the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium in Kuala Terengganu.

The flooded pitch during Malaysia's match against Bahrain on June 11 exposed a severe lapse in maintenance and quality and Ahmad Faizal was quick to reassure the public that steps were taken to fix the issue in announcing its indefinite closure from June 15 to facilitate repairs, which was followed by an order for the Malaysia Stadium Board (PSM) to conduct a forensic study on the stadium's structure.

If the the public was waiting for a detailed report on how RM10 million of their funds were spent on an international embarrassment of a pitch, they were subdued by among the first solutions being studied by Ahmad Faizal and his team of experts, which was the renaming of the National Stadium through the sale of its rights to generate revenue.

A noble idea nonetheless, but seen as a hilarious attempt to divert attention away from the crux of the matter which was its controversial RM10 million pitch.

It was however a mildly successful endeavour, as the attention of football fans was then shifted across the city to Shah Alam, where it's stadium has been left in a horrific state of disrepair for far too long.

Not only the pitch, but its leaky roof and all around lack of maintenance of facilities in the Shah Alam Stadium resulted in it being in its current state, although the solution from within the Selangor State Secretariat seems to be the total demolition of the landmark to make way for other buildings, including a smaller, more manageable 30,000 to 40,000-seater football-specific stadium.

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The Malaysian Football League (MFL) had deemed the Shah Alam Stadium unsafe in March 2020, forcing its closure and for home team Selangor to be displaced, playing their Malaysian Super League home matches at the Petaling Jaya Stadium since then.

But two years has seen further entertainment being dished out for the critics, from an RM250 million estimate being proposed for the refurbishment of the stadium to the Selangor government, which then saw to repairs being delayed, to the demolition proposal.

For a person who had frequented Selangor's home matches prior to the stadium's closure, this writer can bear witness to the lackadaisical attitude in maintenance that is now seemingly likely to seal the Shah Alam Stadium's fate.

For years it seemed the only maintenance being conducted at the stadium was post-match or post-event garbage collection, causing the allegation that the only maintenance staff who were put to work at the stadium were the groundsmen and janitors.

While matches were being played at night, toilets were left in the dark for months with dysfunctional lights. Possibly even years.

On more than one occasion, I'd been forced to relieve myself in the dark during my half-time dash to the toilet.

That experience alone turns the excuses being forked out by those in power, of the stadium being too large and too difficult to manage, rather hilarious ones.

They should have contracted out the previous maintenance deals to those who at least had the capabilities of changing light bulbs.

Thus, it came as no surprise that other parts of the once majestic stadium had been left to decay into an eyesore gradually over the 28 years since its opening in 1994.

With such a maintenance culture, what guarantee is there that a smaller facility would be kept pristine, or at least its toilets lit?

But wait, just as we humour ourselves over the tragic decay of the Shah Alam Stadium, over on the East Coast, the Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium in Gong Badak, Kuala Terengganu produced an even more mindboggling form of entertainment for fans on the stands during the Terengganu vs Negri Sembilan match on Wednesday.

Pre-match torrential rains amazingly left the stadium's pitch unaffected, but somehow flooded the grandstands turning them into swimming pools, which a couple of disjointed fans chose to demonstrate in several videos that went viral on social media.

Just how drainage had failed the stand, at least a storey above ground, to turn it into a pool is anybody's guess.

The Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium is no stranger to controversy, with its collapsed roof taking centrestage in 2009, barely a year upon its completion.

The solution was to remove the roof.

While the continuous issues and surprises highlight a failed maintenance culture, it is hard to deny that this very culture provides a highly sustainable system so long as taxpayers foot the bill.

Mammoth projects, more often than not turned white elephants, serve to provide just that - projects for some.

The burden of maintenance is often tossed around among a circle of contractors, again dishing out further projects within that economic circle.

For every faulty facility that grabs the headlines, the solutions would always be sought through government spending for which state budgets would be allocated and thus a certain economy within that circle kept thriving.

This is the story of most if not all sports facilities in the country, and it will be until the sports industry itself serves up an eco-system feasible enough for privately owned and maintained facilities to thrive.

Until then, nobody is to blame for laughing at how convenient this comedy is for some.

ARNAZ M. KHAIRUL is a sportswriter, media consultant and former South East Asia representative of the International Association of Cycling Journalists (AIJC).

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