FIFA is WRONG: 5 reasons synthetic turf is not the future

By Jerad R. Minnick.  Founder of Growing Green Grass

FIFA President Sepp Blatter recently increased the international soccer governing body’s advocacy for synthetic turf. In an August 4th press conference, Mr. Blatter called synthetic turf the “future” for soccer. His statements not only played as a sales pitch for big business synthetic turf, they were complete slander against the natural grass and green industry of plants and sustainability.  President Blatter took his bold statements all the way to suggest that grass soccer fields would become today’s grass tennis courts… that very few soccer matches a year will be played on natural grass.

President Blatter’s statements about synthetic turf as the “future” for soccer are in no way based in fact.  His statements are his opinion. Conversely, it can easily be argued that synthetic turf is not the future. In fact, it is possibly that synthetic turf could become completely obsolete for soccer surfaces sooner than later. Here are 5 reasons to why natural grass is not only staying in soccer, but why they are going to prevail from President Blatter’s un-factual assault.

 

Cost
The continually pushed idea to support synthetic turf is that synthetic turf is cheaper than natural grass. That idea is completely false. Certainly there are ways to make a grass field more expensive. But a basic, high quality natural grass field that can be used in the rain requires less than ½ of the monetary investment required for a synthetic field. In fact, the investment required for a 10-year period on 1 synthetic field equals the amount of money required for 3 natural grass fields. Those figures are based on an 8-year replacement cycle for the synthetic plastic carpet. Major League Soccer has 3 stadiums with synthetic fields that are being replaced on a 3-year rotation, a rate that doubles the price over a 10-year period. Additionally, new infills to reduce extreme heat and shock pads below the synthetic carpet that are needed for safety increase cost even more. In a world hampered with economic crisis, synthetic turf fields are not the answer. See more basic expense figures here: Grass v synthetic, The numbers 

 

Playability
Natural grass fields can be built and maintained to meet a stadium’s needs. Natural grass surfaces can be controlled and changed by Sports Field Managers to fit the type of surface that a coach and team wants to play on. Slow, fast, soft, firm, wet, dry. All of these factors can be controlled completely with a grass field and can even be changed from match to match depending on what a coach wants for their team’s advantage. With these changing factors, still the ball always “rolls” on natural grass, allowing players to predict ball movement during play. Skin burns and abrasions aren’t common with grass as on synthetic. The burn potential and pain make players timid to attack or defend in a way that could lead them to fall and be scarred. Additionally, a natural grass surface temperature is below the outdoor temperature, cooling the area for players instead of super heating it.  With the fight being staged by women’s National team players around the world against synthetic in the 2015 World Cup, grass playability and appeal is obvious.  See more thoughts on playability: Artificial turf makes no sense for soccer 

 

Environmental/ Health impact
Natural grass is just that… natural. The environmental benefits of natural grass are many. There is no debate about potential cancer threats, extra requirements for storm water management, or heat island threats from natural grass. With improved grass genetics, evolving maintenance practices, and technology for pest control, a world of all-natural, natural grass is just a few years away. More positives from natural grass are:

  • Filters pollutants from storm water as it soaks back into the soil
  • Reduces noise pollution by up to 40%
  • Cools the ambient air temperature
  • Produces oxygen (1 field/ yr produces enough to supply up to 128 people)
  • Reduces CO2 (1 field/ yr removes the equivalent emitted by a car driving 6,000 miles)

With acres of park and stadium fields around the world, the good of grass has a huge positive impact on players and society.  See more details: Healthy lawn, healthy environment 

 

Innovation for durability and player safety
The tools used by Sports Field Managers to maintain and improve grass fields evolve daily. Creative thinking and technology are creating a wide range of innovation for natural grass fields.

Grass breeding and genetics: The evolution of turfgrass varieties is dramatic. Improved grasses are available that can grow and recovers at double the rate of older varieties. Better bermudagrass can sustain winters as far north as Philadelphia and will grow in the transition zone and southern regions for nearly 1 month longer than before as well. Seashore Paspalum can be watered using ocean salt water and requires very little sunlight. Cool season grass breeding has created Kentucky bluegrass seed germinates within 7 days of planting in order to establish a field in 5 to 7 weeks. Previously it has taken 3 to 6 months. Additionally, Kentucky bluegrass and perennial ryegrass are able sustain aggressive growth through summer heat and withstand disease stress. All of these better grasses require less water and sustain better growth into drought conditions.

Technology for plant feeding and health: Environmentally friendly fertilizers have been and continue to be developed for even, sustained turfgrass growth. These products are created in cooperation with state and local laws to protect the environment while producing thick, strong grass stands on fields. Natural plant hormones and bio-stimulants are available to feed turfgrass plants holistically. These products stimulate natural growth and provide energy for plant health and recovery. Much like a healthy human on a balanced diet and exercise routine, grass plants on a prescribed maintenance program can be healthy and strong too. Think Gatorade, Red Bull, and Vitamin water for grass.

Development of safety and durability tools: Currently a wide range of safety and durability tools are available to be used on natural grass fields. Some examples are:

  • Fiber Sand: Small polypropylene fibers mixed into sand to create stability and give grass roots material to wrap around and not pull out/ divot out
  • Fiber Elastic: Polypropylene fibers for stability mixed with elastane pieces to absorb energy. The energy absorption reduces field compaction and cuts down on the injury potential of the players using the field.
  • AirFibr: Polypropylene for stability mixed with specially developed cork particles to absorb energy. AirFibr has documented injury reduction data from biomechanics labs working to improve grass surfaces
  • XtraGrass: Natural grass growing through a 3” biodegradable mat of synthetic fibers to create surface stability, traction and player safety.
  • Desso GrassMaster: Stability fibers sewed into sand to provide stability, traction, and player safety.

These are just a few examples of many innovative products available for natural grass fields to sustain heavy traffic and advance player safety. New grass genetics and plant health technology in combination with the safety and durability products create the foundation for strong natural grass fields.

 

Human Element
The human element is the final reason that President Blatter and FIFA are wrong about synthetic turf being the future for soccer. Natural grass is cheaper, more player friendly, better for the environment, and continues to improve and evolve with innovation for durability and player safety. But ultimately the biggest advantage natural grass has over synthetic turf is the care natural grass receives from dedicated Sports Field Manager. A Sports Field Manager that is provided with just a few tools can provide a low-cost, environmentally friendly surface that players desire and need for long careers.  In an age of needed worldwide job creation, FIFA supporting natural grass fields instead of attacking it could create numerous environmentally friendly, green jobs in the sports field and landscape industry. But instead President Blatter and FIFA are advocating for synthetic turf, an industry funded by petroleum, carpet manufacturing, and tire recyclers looking for ways to discard waste.

Synthetic turf is not the future for soccer.  These 5 reasons illustrate that President Blatter’s statements in support of synthetic turf are not based in fact. The statements are just his opinion. Synthetic turf is not the future of soccer, no matter how much he advocates for it.

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