Artificial turf takes root in Eastern Europe

The setting may have been Russian but the reasoning was Chinese - “tell me and I forget, show me and I understand”. With the ancient proverb in mind, last month’s seminar on the installation, usage and maintenance of artificial turf football pitches went way beyond the boundaries of a Moscow conference room to some of the synthetic fields sprouting up in the region of the former Soviet Union.

Representatives of 11 associations from Eastern Europe attended the two-day course. And by the end of the seminar, they all claimed to fully understand the process of installing and utilising an artificial turf pitch. Dr. Eric Harrison, a FIFA consultant and leading specialist on artificial turf pitches, was on hand to give an interesting and highly informative presentation.

Participants listened to talks on a wide range of topics, from the history of artificial turf to invaluable information on the type of footwear to be used and how to organise pop concerts on the pitch. But it was not a case of monologue, as the participants also asked lots of questions and discussed their own practical examples from using such pitches on a day-to-day basis.

Out and about
Field visits were a vital part of the agenda. And as the seminar was held in the Olympic arena of Luzniky, there were a number of artificial turf pitches in the immediate vicinity. Luzniky has three artificial pitches for training purposes as well as a main pitch, which is used by Torpedo Moscow.

A trip was also made to the city of Bronnitsy, some 40 kilometres from Moscow, in order to inspect one of the newest Goal projects. An artificial turf pitch has been laid within the grounds of the Russian football association’s (RFU) technical centre and complex in order to host training camps of the national youth teams as well as for youth tournaments and get-togethers as part of a talent-spotting programme.

In a questionnaire handed out at the end of seminar, all of the seminar participants expressed their total satisfaction. More importantly, comments such as "the more of these seminars, the better" were an assurance to the organisers that they are on the right path: to provide associations with everything they need to ensure that the infrastructure is in place and used in such a way as to support the development of football.

A helping hand
The FIFA Goal development programme provides financial support to associations and allows them to construct crucial infrastructure such as headquarters or technical centres. This help also finances “houses of football” as well as professional training centres in countries that would not be able to cover such an investment from their own budget.

A number of associations in the countries of the former Soviet Union have used this unique opportunity to invest in infrastructure and football development, with most of the funds used to construct artificial turf pitches. And it should come as no surprise that, although the level of initial investment is relatively high, the long-term benefits support laying such pitches. Durability, weather independence, playing characteristics and low maintenance costs are just some of the reasons that explain why the installation of artificial turf pitches is becoming more and more common.

Nine (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia and Turkmenistan) of the 15 former Soviet Union countries have used the financial assistance provided by the Goal programme to lay first-class artificial pitches under the supervision of FIFA consultants and with products provided by licensees of the FIFA Quality Concept.

All of these pitches are used extensively, particularly by footballers in all youth categories (male & female). The pitches also boost development work at youth and school level and are invaluable to sporting educational programmes. During the winter, which in many countries can be quite long, senior teams use these pitches to play matches as part of their pre-season training. Small wonder then that soon there will be even more countries to add to this list, with artificial turf pitches due to be laid in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine in early 2004.

Before an artificial pitch is ready for action, there are many steps to complete: evaluation of the soil, selection of a manufacturer and installation companies, evaluation of the product type, construction of the sub-base/pitch, providing the necessary guarantees. But once the pitch has been laid, the process of ensuring it is used and maintained correctly only just begins.

The low maintenance costs do not mean that the pitch does not require maintenance or that the related costs should not be budgeted for. However, it does mean that the related costs are approximately five times lower than for a natural grass pitch. Appropriate maintenance work safeguards the quality of the pitch and maximises its longevity. It is therefore crucial that the manufacturer provides the associations with detailed instructions in this regard.

FIFA not only provides associations with “hardware” in the form of artificial turf pitches but also enables them to use and maintain the pitches correctly, thus allowing for longevity and long-term quality.