FIFA quality concept ensures perfect pitch

In the last issue of FIFA Magazine we looked at developments in artificial turf pitches. Now we chart the new FIFA Quality Concept for Artificial Turf and the tests which will ensure that any artificial turf pitch awarded the FIFA RECOMMENDED mark will be a pleasure to play on.

Modern artificial turf pitches are now near to replicating most of the playing qualities of grass. In recognition of this fact FIFA has developed the Quality Concept for Artificial Turf. Why? Football is a global game and, to be fair to all players, they must play with equipment that is consistent and on pitches that have the same characteristics.

Already, qualifying matches for FIFA final competitions may be played on artificial surfaces provided FIFA permission is requested two months prior to the game. And the next decade will surely see the installation of an increasing number of artificial pitches in club football stadia throughout the world.

Turf manufacturers may apply to become FIFA Licensees and will pay an annual fee for this privilege. They will then pay a one-time royalty fee on each licensed pitch which may be offset against the licensing fee. These royalties will be put into football development and it is likely that this will finance the installation or upgrading of artificial turf pitches in needy countries throughout the world.

The licensing agreement lasts for three years and gives the manufacturer the right to use the FIFA RECOMMENDED mark in advertising and promotions in relation to their pitches which have been awarded the hallmark. Additionally, they will benefit from FIFA's own marketing programme to promote the hallmark and they can have the confidence that the mark is fully trademarked throughout the world.

However, FIFA will only be awarding the hallmark FIFA RECOMMENDED to pitches which have been through a lengthy and exacting testing process. Dr. Eric Harrison, FIFA's consultant on artificial pitches says, "It's important to understand that those marks will only be awarded to an installed pitch and not simply to the turf carpet. This is because the underlying base surface together with the quality of the installed surface are just as important to the playability of the pitch as the turf."

Before the FIFA RECOMMENDED hallmark is awarded, each pitch must go through a three-stage test process - identification tests, laboratory tests and field tests. The field tests must take place within three months of the pitch being installed if weather conditions allow.

First, the turf carpet will have to be identified so that the turf actually laid can be checked against the turf which has been tested.

Then the manufacturer must provide evidence that the turf is made of materials which are non-toxic and which do not stain or cause a glare when reflecting the light. The manufacturer and purchaser must also make sure that the pitch abides by all local environmental legislation and take into consideration the prevailing climatic conditions when designing the surface. It must also be able to bear the weight of the turf carpet, the pounding by the players during their normal activities of playing football and any necessary maintenance machinery as well as being permeable and even.

  Laid out with synthetic turf: the Nickerson Field Stadium in Boston (USA).
Photo: FIFA

Once these conditions have been satisfied, then testing may proceed to define the overall performance of the surface as suitable for football.

Basically, all the criteria and tests have been devised using grass as the bench mark so that ball behaviour on the artificial turf matches ball behaviour on a good grass surface. Laboratory equipment has been devised to test three areas - the reaction of the ball to the surface, the reaction of the player to the surface and resistance to wear and tear.

Once a particular turf product has been laboratory tested and received its pass certificate, it has no need to go through the same tests again and again for every new pitch. But the turf laid for each new pitch must be matched against the original sample to confirm that the two are the same, and then the field-testing of the turf and the pitch construction may begin. Only when the complete pitch has passed all tests will it receive its FIFA RECOMMENDED mark.

Nine initial test laboratories have been chosen to undertake the field tests (but more will need to be added as the programme expands) and two of these will also be able to undertake the laboratory tests for turf.

They are based worldwide - in Europe, the Far East, USA and Australia so they are within easy access of most of the world's major markets.

Twenty years ago, when some clubs installed artificial surfaces, the home club always had an advantage over the away club because they were used to the surface.

This was not a fair situation and if the new generation of artificial surfaces is to be accepted and used alongside grass pitches then every artificial turf pitch must not only play like grass but also have the same level of consistency from one country and climate and one manufacturer to another.

Currently, the standards for artificial pitches vary from country to country so it doesn't help manufacturers to have to develop different products for different markets. Better for them and better for the players that there is one recognised international standard set by football's world governing body - FIFA.