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The National Stadium pitch is in good shape to host the final of the Africa Cup of Nations tomorrow.
Following a pitch inspection this week, Stadium Management SA (SMSA), the City of Johannesburg, as well as the Local Organising Committee (LOC) have given the thumbs-up ahead of the clash between Nigeria and Burkina Faso.
There were serious concerns about the state of the pitch prior to the final following last weekend’s Red Hot Chili Peppers concert.
However, SMSA has confirmed that the field of play is in great shape to host the final.
“We did a pitch review on Tuesday,” said Jacques Grobbelaar, chief executive of SMSA.
“We are 100 percent comfortable the pitch conforms to Fifa regulations. I still believe it’s one of the better pitches in the country at the moment.”
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula voiced concern about the state of the pitch after the concert, but Grobbelaar said this was unwarranted.
Mbalula slammed stadium managers for prioritising music concerts over big football matches.
He singled out the National Stadium, which hosted the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert on Saturday night, as an example of the “reckless management” of venues.
“Concerts can take place on condition that the pitch and the stadium are protected.
“I don’t understand how government can spend so much money building these stadiums, and after a tournament, we’re told that we’ve got nothing to do with these stadiums,” said Mbalula.
Grobbelaar said that concerts were necessary to make SMSA financially viable.
“Following the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert on Saturday, it definitely is adding value to the huge investment we made, following previous shows before soccer events,” Grobbelaar said.
He added that the pitch was changed last year to accommodate non-sport events at the venue.
“We decided to rip out the pitch in the middle of December and install a brand new 50 percent artificial pitch.”
The City of Johannesburg installed a Desso Grassmaster pitch at the National Stadium in December to prepare for Afcon.
The pitch cost about R6 million to install.
“The new pitch is definitely extending our ability to have more events at the stadium – which is very important to our business model,” said Grobbelaar.
He added that the contract to hold the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert was signed long before South Africa had been given the rights to host Afcon 2013.
“Those contracts were signed about 16 months ago. At the time, the Afcon was still scheduled for Libya.”
He added that cancelling the Chili Peppers contract was not an option.
“If we didn’t honour the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ contract, we would be open for claims in excess of R90m from them, and the consequential damages could have run into R1 billion.”
Meanwhile, the City of Johannesburg said they too were pleased with the condition of the pitch for tomorrow’s final.
“The pitch is in good condition,” said Nthatisi Modingoane, spokesperson for the City of Johannesburg.
“Following the media hype about the pitch condition at the stadium after major musical events, the City of Johannesburg took a decision to make a long-term investment by planting the Grassmaster, which makes the facility a true multi-purpose venue.”
Modingoane added that the city had been impressed by the pitch since the beginning of the Afcon tournament.
“The city was happy with the state of the pitch during the opening game too,” said Modingoane.
“The grass is a long-term investment in the stadium that would ensure the co-existence of sporting as well as other events, such as music concerts. This will guarantee the sustainability of this facility into the future.”
Sipho Sithole, spokesman for the LOC, said they too had no concerns with the National Stadium’s pitch.
“Desso grass was installed at the National Stadium to ensure that the pitch can withstand any usage of the stadium before the tournament,” said Sithole.
“It is an investment that was made taking into account the events leading to and during the tournament, such as the concerts involving Lady Gaga and Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
Sithole confirmed that all tickets had been sold out for the Afcon final tomorrow, including the suite tickets.
With thousands of fans expected to descend upon the stadium, the LOC has urged all football lovers to make the necessary transport arrangements for easy access to the stadium and to avoid congestion.
Gates open at 4pm.
The closing ceremony begins at 6.45pm followed by the final game which will kick off at 8.30pm.
Additional reporting by Sapa. - Saturday Star