Hsinchu Baseball Stadium, which was rebuilt for nearly NT$1.2 billion (US$40 million) after a former venue at the site was demolished in 2019, was officially reopened with great fanfare on July 22.
However, numerous problems have emerged during the two professional baseball games played there since the reopening, provoking many complaints from players and fans.
A surging interest in sports has made Taiwanese cities keen to organize international or domestic multi-sports tournaments, which has made the construction of new stadiums increasingly important. Government authorities would be well advised to slow down a bit, and take the time to confront problems and work out solutions.
Authorities should consider these three aspects:
First, construction committees should include representatives from all walks of life, who can examine the stadium environment from the user perspective. Construction companies and designers tasked with the projects are often unfamiliar with the needs of sports venues, including baseball stadiums. Furthermore, professional baseball stadiums must be built to higher standards than ordinary baseball fields.
All stages of the construction process, including design, construction and final inspection, should involve venue management specialists from the sports leagues and teams that are to use the stadiums, as well as coaches, retired players and experienced sports reporters, who should be invited to participate in discussion and supervision, and can point out safety details that require attention.
The planning and final inspection of spectator stands should also involve fan clubs and individual fans as to how the experience the venue offers can be improved.
This would be in contrast to current procedures, in which the planning and final inspection mostly involves civil servants, elected officials and academic experts, who might not be particularly capable of examining the stadium comprehensively from a user perspective.
Second, after a stadium is rebuilt and before it is officially reopened, there should be a series of test games to reveal whether any corrections and adjustments need to be made.
The stadium should be fully prepared instead of rushing to cut the ribbon. In the case of Hsinchu Baseball Stadium, if the norms set by past openings of international sports venues had been followed, the operators should first have held a sufficient number of test games so that players and spectators could offer their feedback on their experience, which the operators could have used as a reference for improvements ahead of the first league game.
Some test games were indeed held before the reopening, but they were apparently not enough, as the time between those games and the first league game was too short. The construction company received a lot of feedback after the test games, but only limited adjustments could be made. As a result, several players in the two league games were injured because of deficiencies in the playing field.
This experience should prompt the authorities to be more diligent when planning pre-opening schedules for new venues and setting the date for their official opening. They should also pay more attention to feedback about user experience.
This would allow more time for making any necessary corrections and adjustments.
Third, local governments can only do so much, so the Sports Administration must play an essential role. The government departments concerned can hardly deny their share of the blame for the bucketful of problems that have emerged from the reconstruction of Hsinchu Baseball Stadium, but the Hsinchu City Government not having a dedicated sports department also played a role. Without such an agency, just as in many other cities and counties, the Hsinchu Department of Education took the lead in supervising the reconstruction.
In contrast, the Sports Administration has a sports facilities division, whose responsibilities include promoting and guiding the work quality inspections and management of the construction or renovation of publicly operated sports facilities. The division should therefore offer assistance with any such project. In the Hsinchu case, players raised issues about the incorrect composition of the soil on the pitcher’s mound, lack of covered access to the outfield bullpens and maintenance issues such as excessively soft turf, none of which education department officials could be expected to understand.
The Sports Administration should invite sports experts and academics to compile guidelines for the construction of sports venues, based on the stadium specifications required for holding multi-sports events. Counties and cities could refer to those guidelines when building new venues, which would hopefully prevent situations similar to that in Hsinchu.
Charles Yu is a professor and head of National Chung Hsing University’s Graduate Institute of Sports Health and Management.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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