UEFA Takes Next Steps on Artificial Turf for Footballback to list
14 October 2002
As part of the joint efforts of FIFA and UEFA in supporting the development of artificial turf, UEFA has launched its new Artificial Turf Manual, which is designed to set the standards needed for the use of artificial turf at the highest levels of European football.
UEFA launched the Artificial Turf Manual at the annual Technical Meeting of the International Association for Sports Surface Sciences (ISSS), which was held on 10-11 October at UEFA Headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland. Introducing a series of presentations on the development of the new standards, UEFA Chief Executive Gerhard Aigner said that artificial turf could be a future solution to the playing surface problems that arise in some modern-day football arenas.
"Quality football can only be played on a good surface," Mr Aigner said. "In top-level football, the football authorities - and this includes UEFA with the European competitions - are today facing the problem that modern football arenas or multi-purpose stadiums are very much enclosed or even covered, with the disadvantage that grass pitches deteriorate rapidly, do not grow properly or even do not grow at all. The cost involved in maintaining a good natural grass pitch in many stadiums has become exorbitant. One solution could be the introduction of artificial turf."
Mr Aigner explained UEFA's belief that artificial turf surfaces would become much more widely used for football once professional clubs accepted them. "In top UEFA football competitions such a revolutionary move is only possible if products are available that will come as close to natural turf as possible. This has prompted UEFA to introduce its own standards for artificial turf. We have to make it clear that the high standard set by UEFA applies only to football turf installed on pitches used for UEFA competition matches," he emphasised. "An artificial turf installed on a pitch that misses the UEFA requirements cannot be used for UEFA competition matches, but it does not mean that these surfaces are unsuitable for football on national levels."
Whereas the standards for artificial surfaces introduced recently by FIFA through its Quality Concept were based largely on existing artificial turf products, UEFA has clearly taken the view that it should not have to compromise on what it sees as the ideal performance characteristics, and that it is prepared to wait if manufacturers need to develop new products to meet the requirements within UEFA's Artificial Turf Manual.
UEFA Senior Manager Rene Eberle explained to the delegates at the ISSS meeting that UEFA is presently working on a pilot scheme to test a number of artificial turf pitches at certain "volunteer" professional clubs over the next two years. The results are to be analysed with FIFA, with a view to the possible use of artificial turf in European competitions from 2005. It appears likely that the two governing bodies will agree on a joint approach, based on the same technical standards, by that time. Mr Eberle also stressed the need, during the next two years, for further studies into the biomechanical and medical aspects of the use of artificial surfaces, and he invited the co-operation of the industry in this work.
To produce the new standards, UEFA tested a range of natural turf football pitches, and identified what it describes as the ideal "footballistic" requirements for the playing characteristics of a surface. The ISSS set up a dedicated working group to assist UEFA, led by SAPCA member Alastair Cox (top picture), which produced the necessary test methods to enable UEFA to sets the limits for performance that it wants. Mr Cox explained that UEFA had decided that there should be just one test method for each requirement, and that the Artificial Turf Manual included UEFA's own test methods, rather than simply referring to other existing methods, in order that they should retain tight control.
Charting the development of artificial turf surfaces from the installation at the Houston Astrodome in 1964, UEFA consultant Rolf Hediger described how the latest generation of surfaces, specifically designed for soccer, had been introduced from 1998 onwards. As there are a number of generic descriptions in use for these products, (latest generation, third generation, long pile), UEFA has decided to use the term "Football Turf".
Mr Hediger also explained that UEFA had not included any requirements for a surface's durability, as it was more concerned about the actual playing performance. While recognising that this issue would be of importance to individual purchasers, UEFA consider it best to leave this to buyers, who might refer to relevant national standards.
In the discussion that followed the presentation of the Artificial Turf Manual, there was broad support from industry for the introduction of the standard. The decision not to charge a licence fee for the future accreditation of products was also applauded by the delegates, as UEFA was seen to be advocating the use of artificial surfaces for the benefit of the sport, rather than as a commercial exercise.
The issue that produced most discussion was the suggested need for alternative requirements for other levels of play and training purposes, and the meeting debated whether the development of surfaces and standards should be from the "top down" or from the "bottom up". The concern was expressed that, without a standard for lower levels of play, market forces might reduce the quality of certain facilities. Steve Williams, National Facilities Manager for the Football Association in England, highlighted that the FA had a clear need for such a standard, in order to give advice to clubs and schools and to protect the current investment in new facilities at grass roots level. The need for clear guidance on the appropriate maintenance of surfaces was also identified.
While the launch of the UEFA standard was the focal point of the ISSS Technical Meeting, sessions were also presented by representatives of other international sports governing bodies, covering hockey, athletics, tennis and basketball.
At the end of the two-day meeting ISSS Chairman Ed Milner was very pleased with the success of the event, commenting: "the hospitality provided by UEFA has been magnificent, and I have been really delighted with the openness and quality of the discussions between everyone that has taken part".
Note: The UEFA Artificial Turf Manual will be available to download from http://www.uefa.com by the end of October.
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