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Natural turf surfaces versus artificial turf surfaces

On the position paper of the Swiss Association of Football Players (SAFP)

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The Swiss Association of Football Players (SAFP) has released a position paper on the subject of natural grass versus artificial turf surfaces. The fact that the Swiss professional footballers have documented their opinion on the subject of artificial surfaces should be welcomed. As a result, it is possible to give a concrete opinion on the group’s concerns as regards the topic of artificial turf surfaces.
The reservations are, granted, completely understandable but, in the broader sense, only from the point of view of a professional footballer. It may be the general opinion of sports field experts that artificial turf pitches cannot be viewed as competition to natural turf pitches. Artificial turf pitches are absolutely necessary in order to cover the growing demand for sports fields with very few resources at hand in terms of available area. The almost unlimited playability (frequency used, unaffected by weather and multi-purpose uses) plays a decisive role. FIFA and UEFA recognised this problem at an early stage and cleared the way for these pitches to be used for high-level football. This happened initially in the interest of countries that had seri-ous difficulties with natural grass pitches for financial or climatic reasons. This helped European football, though, in that artificial pitches were accepted in league games, particularly in school and leisure time sports. In addition, test procedures and requirements have been created which have made it possible for artificial turf pitches to be built with acceptable, equal and largely consistent playing characteristics/playability (performance) (EN 15330-1; DIN V 18035-7:2002; alternative specification artificial turf surfaces of the ISSS). The unavoidable differences may be important for the professional footballers playing at the highest level; the rest of the footballing world is, however, happy to have artificial turf pitches and to be free of the well-known limitations imposed by natural grass surfaces.
The position paper deals with four different aspects. The following addresses these issues:

Health aspects

It should be made clear that there is no general increase in the number of health or injury risks to be observed when using good artificial turf pitches. Rather, it is only the nature of the injury that is different compared to those incurred on a natural grass pitch. This would indeed be a problem for professional footballers were they to play competitively on natural surfaces sometimes, then switch and have to play on artificial surfaces (difficulties in the medical treatment of injuries and convalescence).
Referring to possible later consequences of playing on artificial turf is not permitted in that it is an incalculable risk, because there has already been more than 10 years of experience.
The fact that artificial turf surfaces retain a relatively high surface temperature from time to time during the summer when exposed to the sun cannot be dismissed. This must be taken into account by the players in that specific situation (in certain conditions avoiding the hot hours of sunlight).
The warning with regard to insurance risks is not indicated.


Sporting aspects

It is also a fact that the game played on artificial turf compared to natural grass is different and each requires an adaptation of playing technique. It cannot be denied, however, that good technical football can be played on artificial turf thanks to its evenness and the relative consistency of its properties. It is well known that professional footballers prefer natural grass because they cope with its ‘pitfalls’ better and appear more competent as a result.
The fact that football players have to adapt their playing style to an artificial surface is not such a serious concern when you consider that the condition of natural grass pitches can vary greatly depending on the weather at the time, country and how well it is maintained, with each requiring a corresponding adaptation of playing technique.

Environmental aspects

There are no environmental concerns regarding artificial turf surfaces (BASPO 113 studies). You could even formulate a statement claiming that they are more advantageous because they do not require the implementation of fertilisers or other chemicals. Such a discussion would not be beneficial, however.

Artificial turf surfaces can be disposed of in incinerators. The cost of this disposal alongside removing the surface, separating the infill, transportation and fees should equate to 1-2 Francs per m².

Economic aspects

It is correct that artificial turf surfaces on FIFA certified pitches must firstly be tested annually (according to FIFA Quality Concept FQC) and, secondly, replaced approximately every 3 years. The latter is more a result of the fact that FIFA requirements are incredibly stringent (ball roll in particular) and the systemic care regime for these pitches demanded by FIFA. Naturally this is expensive.

For the other pitches in the football association, as well as leisure and school sports facilities, these stringent conditions are not mandatory. You can expect a lifespan of at least 15 years from good artificial surfaces. It will definitely still need to be maintained, but considerably less than is needed with FIFA pitches.

Financial calculations (e.g. AR Hans Graber) show that artificial turf pitches aren’t more expensive than natural grass pitches, taking into consideration the intensive usage, reduced maintenance costs, etc.

Conclusions

There can be no talk of there being any danger that, in Switzerland, in the stadia of the Super League and Challenge League, there is an increasing number of artificial turf surfaces. This has, up until now, only been the case in Thun, Neuchâtel and Bern. Artificial surfaces were selected here as a result of technical necessities.

The continued development of artificial and natural playing surfaces will remain independent of each other. In this respect, there will be no adverse effect on one through the other.
 

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