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SAPCA welcomes Football League's synthetic turf consultation

17 Feb 2012
by Chris Trickey, Chief Executive, SAPCA
No-one would argue that most players would prefer to play on a top quality natural pitch if they can, but the fact is that many can't, and in many cases synthetic turf will provide a much better playing experience.

The Sports and Play Construction Association (SAPCA) certainly welcomes the Football League's public consultation on the use of synthetic turf surfaces; SAPCA will take part in the survey and will encourage the industry to do so.

SAPCA and its members are keen to promote high standards for both natural and synthetic turf surfaces for football, and to ensure that there is a well-informed debate about the relative merits of both types of pitch. The choice of surface shouldn't be presented as a battle for supremacy between natural and synthetic turf; each has its place and a decision about what is most suitable should be made for each individual facility, whether at a professional football club, the local park, or a school.

The last decade has seen very significant growth in the installation of the "third generation" or 3G surfaces across the UK, using relatively long-pile yarns with rubber and sand infills. These surfaces have been developed to replicate the playing performance of high-quality natural turf surfaces and have become very popular for football, with numerous grassroots facilities funded by the FA and the Football Foundation. They perform so much better than the old sand-filled surfaces installed at a number of professional clubs in the 1980s that they would be unrecognisable to players from that generation.

Since then there have been important technological advances in the yarns and fibres used for synthetic turf. There is now a much wider range of yarns available, with different profiles, shapes and thicknesses, which make it easier to achieve the playing performance needed. Fibres are now also more durable, enabling surfaces to achieve longer life expectancy. Standards of pitch design and construction have also improved significantly.

No-one would argue that most players would prefer to play on a top quality natural pitch if they can, but the fact is that many can't, and in many cases synthetic turf will provide a much better playing experience. The demand for synthetic turf will also continue to be fuelled by clubs and other facilities where there is a practical requirement for more intensive usage  for football and other activities - and a need to boost revenue, to ensure financial viability. It's inevitable that we'll see more regular use of synthetic surfaces in the professional game eventually.

Unfortunately much of the opposition to synthetic turf for football appears to be based either on players' experiences from twenty plus years ago, which are out-of-date, or a more emotive view that synthetic turf is somehow a threat to the traditions of the game, to be resisted in football and other professional sports come what may. Yet it can't really be a question of whether the playing performance of modern synthetic turf is good enough, otherwise FIFA simply wouldn't allow it for professional competition and wouldn't have invested many millions of Swiss francs in new 3G pitches around the world in its efforts to develop the sport globally.

It is important to remember that synthetic surfaces for football have come a very long way since the 1980s - hopefully the Football League's consultation will produce a timely and healthy discussion within the game, but based on sound knowledge and informed opinion.

Tags: sport & recreation 

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