Football Field ‘Unplayable,’ Federation Says

Though the long-delayed, multimillion-dollar renovation of Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium sports complex has been pronounced complete, government sports officials do not expect that any international sporting events will be held there any time soon.

The bone of contention, the officials say, is the stadium’s centerpiece: The football pitch.

Cambodian football officials have high hopes of hosting international, televised football matches in the coming years, and are disappointed with a field that appears to have been set up in haste.

The contract between the Yuan Ta Group construction firm, which was responsible for the renovation, and the government reveals that $1.6 million was budgeted for the “reconditioning [of] the gym, football field and football seating, swimming pool and the building, and facilities.”

The result, however, is a pitch that Cambodian Football Feder­ation President Khek Ravy calls “unplayable” and the stadium’s original architect, Vann Moly­vann, said is not up to “technical standards.”

The renovations are “just a facade,” Khek Ravy said. “We [the federation] checked the field and it is worthless: The grass is terrible and the field is terrible.”

The field, Khek Ravy said, has not been built to international football specifications, does not have proper drainage and is covered with sand and stones.

“It is not made of good earth. If you look at it, you will know it will not last very long,” he said.

Vann Molyvann agrees. “I think the Yuan Ta company did not follow technical standards, and the field cannot be used for international tournaments,” he said. “They just did some painting. They did not renovate the underground drainage.”

If it rains, he said, the field will be soaked.

Cambodia and Vietnam are slated to co-host the 2004 Tiger Cup, a regional football tournament, and Cambodia hopes to host World Cup qualifying matches that same year, Khek Ravy said. If the field is not up to international standards and the lighting system is not bright enough to accommodate television cameras, that will be impossible, he said.

Sub-contractors and construction firms say the shoddy results are due to a lack of funds and time constraints caused by delays in funding. The Mom Kosal Con­struction Com­pany won the bid from the Yuan Ta Group to renovate the sta­dium, and, in turn, subcontracted the job to four other companies.

The director of the company, Mom Kosal, said the Yuan Ta Group still owed him a significant amount of the renovation budget, but declined to say exactly how much.

“I have constructed many things, but I have never faced a problem like this one. Renovating here is very complicated,” he said.

Chea Seng, one of the subcontractors who worked on the stadium and was responsible for renovating the field, said that in other countries, millions of dollars are spent to plant the grass and make similar renovations. He said he was given $190,000.

Bou Chum Serey, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport said that the ministry had sent an “inter-ministerial committee” to inspect the grass before it was planted.

The Yuan Ta group pronounced the renovations complete earlier this month, but the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has not yet retaken control of the stadium.

The ministry is still waiting for scoreboards. “We cannot conduct an international tournament without scoreboards,” he said.

And, said Bou Chum Serey, there is inadequate power to light the stadium’s lamps. Matches are typically played late in the afternoon or in the evening to avoid the heat.

“You can see from the bulbs that there is not enough intensity to light the stadium at night,” added Khek Ravy.

Unfortunately, he said, “in Cambodia, sports [issues] are mostly decided by people who have no idea what sports are about. If there is no development of football, if you do not push forward, you are just killing something, not developing it.”

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