Synthetic pitches would be a good idea for 2010 stadia

September 20, 2007

There has been lots of media coverage around the construction work at new and existing stadia for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  This has included some great computer-generated views of what the new structures will look like architecturally (http://www.satwentyten.com/Cities.html), but there has been little said about the most important element of the whole stadium – the pitch itself.

One of the big concerns is the limited amount of sunlight that the pitches will receive due to the combined effect of the time of year the World Cup games will be played (during the southern hemisphere winter), and the high stands and roofs that modern stadia generally have.  FIFA president Sepp Blatter put it fairly succinctly (for him) when he said “The stadiums with roofs which totally or partially cover the stands to protect the fans from rain and sun [also] prevent the sun and the wind from getting to the grass”.  This was in reference to some pitch problems experienced at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.  He went on to suggest that matches at the 2010 World Cup could take place on synthetic pitches (http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2006/06/22/1668862.htm).

In July I went to watch Tottenham play Kaiser Chiefs in a pre-season match at King’s Park stadium, which is home to the Natal Sharks rugby team in Durban (and directly opposite the new stadium being built for 2010). The pitch didn’t look to be in great condition – the grass covering was a bit patchy, and the surface looked hard and a bit sandy, but this is fairly typical for the dry winter months, when the sun is lower in the sky, and there is little rainfall.

Modern synthetic pitches have come along way since the early eighties when English club QPR put in a pitch that was not much more than a green carpet laid over a bed of concrete.  Others clubs followed, but in 1988 the use of ‘plastic pitches’ was banned by the FA. The new ones have tall, synthetic, imitation grass blades embedded in a “synthetic earth” mixture of sand and rubber granules, and look pretty good for football.  At least that’s the impression I got recently when I watched South Africa play Congo-Brazzaville at the Stade-Municipal in Pointe Noire on a synthetic pitch in June 2007 (although apparently the surface turned a bit ‘swamp-like’ for a game played previously between Egypt and Cameroon in the January rainy season). This pitch was installed as part of FIFA’s ‘Win in Africa with Africa’ project, which aims to equip all 52 member countries in Africa (with the exception of South Africa) with an artificial pitch of internal standard (http://www.fifa.com/aboutfifa/worldwideprograms/wininafrica/artificialpitchesinitiative.html).

England will get their turn to play on a synthetic pitch when they face Russia in a European Championship qualifying match at the Luzhniki Olympic stadium in October (I’m sure Steve McClaren is already lining that one up as a post-match excuse). The Luzhniki stadium surface was manufactured by the Canadian firm FieldTurf, and approved by Fifa and Uefa.  Several Barclays Premier League clubs have the same FieldTurf installation as practice pitches, and so alot of the England squad will have had some experience at least of practising on them.

I would imagine that the synthetic turf suppliers will be out in full force at the Soccerex convention in Johannesburg at the end of November.

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