Wearing a whole new look

With a rectangular seating arrangement and a reduced capacity of around 19,000, the Dhyan Chand National Stadium not only provides an excellent view, but also individual fibre seats all around unlike the cemented tiers earlier. It should rank among the best hockey stadiums in the world, as Sports Minister M. S. Gill keeps pointing out. A report by K. P. Mohan.

“It befits the Capital city and it should be great watching a match at this stadium,” says Zafar Iqbal. Ajitpal Singh nods in agreement.

Welcome to the reconstructed, refurbished Dhyan Chand National Stadium, the venue for the Hero Honda FIH World Cup hockey tournament.

The two stalwart players mentioned above were marvelling the sight of the stadium and its brand new synthetic turf the other day in New Delhi as they attested their signatures to a list of names that would figure in India’s line-up at the World Cup.

Zafar surely should be having bitter memories of this venue. The 1982 Asian Games disaster against Pakistan in the final still rankles. Yet, he cannot but admire the compactness of the renovated facility, its computerised sprinkler system and the foldable floodlight towers.

“The spectators would be closer to the field of action now,” says Zafar. “And there is plenty of space for the VIPs to sit and enjoy a good game of hockey.”

The problem with the National Stadium, as it was known earlier, has been it was never meant for hockey. Built in 1933 and named the Irwin Amphitheatre, it was a gift from the Maharaja of Bhavnagar. He had donated Rs. 5 lakh for its construction. The latest renovation has cost Rs. 266 crore.

The venue was renovated for the inaugural Asian Games in 1951 when athletics and cycling events, apart from the opening and closing ceremonies were held there. Part of the embankment, that surrounded the athletics track, to conduct cycling events was broken down when the stadium was re-built again for the 1982 Asian Games, but this time athletics made way for hockey. Cycling by then was a forgotten sport at the National Stadium.

It has remained a hockey venue since then, with the immortal Dhyan Chand’s name being added to its name in 2002. The National Stadium, however, continued to be ill-suited for hockey. The turf was too far away from the stands and tournament committees, spectators and the media preferred the much smaller, but more compact, Shivaji Stadium, right in the heart of the city in Connaught Place, to host and watch the game.

It is different now. With a rectangular seating arrangement and a reduced capacity of around 19,000, it not only provides a better view, but also individual fibre seats all around unlike the cemented tiers earlier. It should rank among the best hockey stadiums in the world, as Sports Minister M. S. Gill keeps pointing out.

Sports Minister M. S. Gill pays tributes to Dhyan Chand at the inauguration of the re-modelled stadium (above) in the hockey wizard’s name.-

The biggest plus point for the re-constructed stadium should be the floodlights. And here it also has the most striking innovation. The hinged floodlighting towers can be brought down from a height of 30 metres to 12 metres to rest on stands on either side of the goal.

The stadium being part of the Central Vista — the Rajpath runs from the Rashtrapati Bhavan to the stadium on a majestic straight path — the retraction of the towers was a must not to spoil the skyline.

Since the venue was renovated primarily for the Commonwealth Games, to come off in October, the floodlights have to provide illumination of 2200 lux for High Definition Television. The adjacent No. 2 turf, which has been provided a new pavilion with a seating capacity of 900 — an additional 1600 can be accommodated in temporary stands — is also fitted with floodlights, though with lesser lux illumination.

There is a third synthetic pitch on the left side at the entrance, meant purely for practice purposes. It used to be a grass turf where the local hockey players trained much before the National Stadium was converted into a hockey venue. With three turfs, all polygrass imported from Australia, there should be no dearth of practice facilities for big tournaments like the World Cup in this complex spread over 37 acres.

“It is for the first time that we are having a polyethylene pitch in the country. Normally it is polypropylene,” said Yogen Lal, Chief Operating Officer, Unity Infraprojects Ltd., Mumbai, that undertook the re-construction work, about the latest polygrass turf, named ‘Poligrass Olympia 2008’.

The green polygrass turf has come with white-coloured pre-fixed markings (actually white turf rather than paint). There will thus be no need to paint the circles, 25-yard lines, side-lines etc. Six sprinklers that are programmed to spray 16,000 litres of water in eight minutes operate from different sides of the main pitch in batches. There are two back-up arrangements for watering if the computerised system fails. For each match, more than 32,000 litres of water would be used, but there would only be minimum wastage.

Water would drain down from all sides and through the smaller drain on the side of the pitch into a larger one to move into a filtering plant from where it would be re-cycled back into use.

Reconstruction work started in November, 2007. “It took us around eight months to pull down and remove existing structures,” says Lal. “Being a Heritage building, it was important to retain the original façade,” he says. “That was a tough call.”

Not only have they been able to retain the old façade, the engineers also extended the stadium beyond its original periphery and provided the extension also the same old, brick-red look. The old façade has been given a wash and a face-lift, the main entry and inside entry points retained while providing more than 40 rooms, big and small, inside an air-conditioned inner arena.

The VVIP lounge is glass-covered and spacious and it has a cantilever roof, 21 metres of it unsupported. There are two electronic scoreboards, change rooms and showers and provision for a multi-gym. There is space for a media lounge and work area.

The Press box is, however, poorly positioned, especially the tabled area, if it eventually materialises, that is. A large portion of the Press box would be in line with the goal cage at one end. The rest of the seats would not stretch beyond the 25-yard line of the field on that side. Obviously, no one in the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee media directorate, if there is one, cared to explain the requirements of the written Press when designs were approved. (At the time of going to Press, the authorities had promised to look into the issue.)

An electronic surveillance system, a walk-through hockey museum and an underground two-tier parking lot to accommodate 400 vehicles would be in place when the stadium is fully completed. (Though it was inaugurated on January 24, there was no certainty about everything being in place before the World Cup. It is possible some of the facilities may be fully functional only in time for the Commonwealth Games.)

The original National Stadium complex (pre-1982) had an athletics track, swimming pool, basketball courts, cricket pitches, a table tennis hall and tennis courts, with the cycling track in disuse. Only the swimming pool remains apart from the hockey facility now. The pool would be re-built by Unity Infraprojects once the World Cup is over.