Artificial turf

Artificial turf

Artificial turf, or synthetic turf, is a man-made surface manufactured from synthetic materials, made to look like natural grass. It is most often used in arenas for sports that were originally or are normally played on grass. However, it is now being used on residential lawns and commercial applications as well.

Background

David Chaney -- who moved to Raleigh in 1960 and later served as dean of the North Carolina State University College of Textiles -- headed the team of RTP researchers who created the famous artificial turf. That accomplishment led Sports Illustrated to declare Chaney as the man "responsible for indoor major league baseball and millions of welcome mats." Artificial turf first came to prominence in 1965, when AstroTurf was installed in the newly-built Astrodome in Houston, Texas. The use of AstroTurf and similar surfaces became widespread in the 1970s and was installed in both indoor and outdoor stadiums used for baseball and gridiron football in the United States and Canada. Maintaining a grass playing surface indoors, while technically possible, is prohibitively expensive, while teams who chose to play on artificial surfaces outdoors did so because of the reduced maintenance cost, especially in colder climates with urban multi-purpose "cookie cutter" stadiums such as Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium and Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.

Applications

Football (Soccer)

Some football (soccer) clubs in Europe installed artificial surfaces in the 1980s, which were called plastic pitches (often derisively) in countries such as England. In England several professional club venues had adopted the pitches, QPR's Loftus Road, Luton Town's Kenilworth Road, Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park and Preston's Deepdale until the English FA banned them in 1988. Artificial turf gained a bad reputation on both sides of the Atlantic with fans and especially with players. The first artificial turfs were a far harder surface than grass, and soon became known as an unforgiving playing surface which was prone to cause more injuries, and in particular, more serious joint injuries, than would comparatively be suffered on a grass surface. Artificial turf was also regarded as aesthetically unappealing to many fans.

In 1981, London football club Queens Park Rangers dug up its grass pitch and installed an artificial one. Others followed, and by the mid-1980s there were four plastic grass pitches in operation in the English league. They soon became a national joke: the ball pinged round like it was made of rubber, the players kept losing their footing, and anyone who fell over risked carpet burns. Unsurprisingly, fans complained that the football was awful to watch and, one by one, the clubs returned to natural grass.

In the 1990s many North American football clubs also removed their artificial surfaces and re-installed grass, while others moved to new stadiums with state-of-the-art grass surfaces that were designed to withstand cold temperatures where the climate demanded it. The use of artificial turf was later banned by FIFA, UEFA and by many domestic football associations, though, in recent years, both governing bodies have expressed an interest in resurrecting the use of artificial surfaces as the related technologies continue to evolve. UEFA has now been heavily involved in programs to test artificial turf with tests made in several grounds meeting with FIFA approval. A team of UEFA, FIFA and German company Polytan conducted tests in the Stadion Salzburg Wals-Siezenheim in Salzburg, Austria which is due to have matches played on it in the UEFA EURO 2008. It is the second FIFA 2 Star approved football turf pitch in a European domestic top flight, after Dutch club Heracles Almelo received the FIFA certificate in August last year. The tests were approved.

Soccer field developments

In the early 21st century, new artificial playing surfaces using sand and/or rubber infill were developed. These "next generation" or "third generation" artificial grass surfaces are often virtually indistinguishable from natural grass when viewed from any distance, and are generally regarded as being about as safe to play on as a typical natural grass surface — perhaps even safer in cold conditions.

Many clubs have installed the new synthetic grass surfaces, most commonly as part of an all-weather training capability. Other clubs which have maintained natural grass surfaces are now re-considering artificial grass. With football clubs in Europe are looking to reduce both the maintenance costs and the number of winter matches that are cancelled due to frozen pitches, the issue has also been re-visited by that sport's governing bodies.

The Scottish Premier League banned synthetic pitches for competition matches in 2005, following a two year experiment by Dunfermline Athletic who installed XL Turf, made by the Swiss firm, XL Generation. The management of Dunfermline were happy with the surface, but the league banned the use of the artificial pitch due to complaints by visiting clubs such as Rangers and Celtic).

"The most common type uses polypropylene "grass" about 5 centimetres long, which is lubricated with silicone and tufted into a primary cloth and then latex is applied to the back of the cloth to give it stability by anchoring in the tufts. The whole thing is then "infilled" with a 4-centimetre layer of sand and rubber granules, which keeps the fibres upright and provides the right level of shock absorbency and deformability. The majority of the 15 or so turf manufacturers approved by FIFA use this technology.

The other sort, typified by Dunfermline's pitch, has a base of expanded polyethylene, a foamy material originally developed as a shock absorber for the car industry (see diagram). The grass is also made of lubricated polyethylene fibres, but they are shorter and more densely packed than on an infilled pitch, and are also interspersed with short, curly, spring-like fibres that keep the blades upright. The finishing touch is an 8-millimetre filling of rubber granules." The installation at the Borussia-Park in Mönchengladbach is another major step in the quality and development of artificial turf surfaces.

UEFA later announced that starting from the 2005-06 season, approved artificial surfaces were to be permitted in their competitions.

Regardless of the views of the governing bodies, criticism of artificial surfaces in soccer continues, notably in reference to the FieldTurf surface at Toronto F.C.'s BMO Field and the Giants Stadium home of Red Bull New York. Current and former players have recently criticised the surface, expressing concerns that, among other things, it may exacerbate injuries.

A full international fixture for the 2008 European Championships was played on 17 October 2007 between England and Russia on an artificial surface, which was installed to counteract adverse weather conditions, at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. It was one of the first full international games to be played on such a surface approved by both FIFA and UEFA. However UEFA have ordered that the 2008 European Champions League final which is due to be hosted in the same stadium in May 2008 must take place on grass and stressed that artificial turf should only be considered an option where climatic conditions necessitate.

Ski & Snowboard

Some ski and snowboard clubs and resorts in Europe installed artificial surfaces in the 1960s and 1970s. Often called pista del sole, after its ability to be used in warm, sunny, conditions, these installations have now, largely, fallen from favour and are increasingly uncommon.

Field hockey

The introduction of synthetic surfaces has significantly changed the sport of field hockey. Since being introduced in the 1970s, competitions in western countries are now mostly played on artificial surfaces. This has increased the speed of the game considerably, and changed the shape of hockey sticks to allow for different techniques, such as reverse stick trapping and hitting. Due to the cost of synthetic pitch installation, India and Pakistan have lost their once dominant position in international competition.

Field hockey artificial turf differs from soccer and football artificial turf in the way that it does not try to reproduce a grass 'feel', being made of shorter fibres similar to the ones used on Dunfermline's pitch. This shorter fibre structure allows the improvement in speed brought by earlier artificial turfs to be retained. This development in the game is however problematic for many local communities who often cannot afford to build two artificial pitches: one for field hockey and one for other sports. The FIH and manufacturers are driving research in order to produce new pitches that will be suitable for a variety of sports. Pitch categories:

  • Unfilled: Often called "water-based", the pile is unfilled. The pitches require wetting, hence the name "water-based", often via prolonged showering with pitch-side water cannon prior to their use and occasionally during half-time intervals depending on the prevailing atmospherics. They are favoured by most sports since they offer more protection for players by minimising the abrasive effect created by the sand. These pitches form the majority of the elite level field hockey pitches in use today.
  • Sand-dressed: The pile of the carpet is filled to within 5-8 mm of the tips of the fibre with fine sand. The sand cannot be seen. It can be confused with unfilled pitches.
  • Sand filled: The pile of the carpet is filled almost to the top with sand. The sand makes the pitch rough and harder. In comparison to water-based pitches or minimal sand-dressed pitches, ball speed across the surface is often noticeably slower.

Tennis

grass court

Landscaping

Since the early 1990s, the use of synthetic grass has moved rapidly beyond athletic fields to residential and commercial landscaping artificial lawns. The idea to use synthetic grass for residential landscaping can be traced back to a Las Vegas based company named Envy Turf. Lyle Johnston, the owner of Envy Turf, saw a golf course being converted to synthetic turf, and decided it had an appropriate use in landscaping, due to the drought conditions Las Vegas has been under since the early nineties. He began purchasing and installing turf in 1992. This trend has been driven primarily by two functions: the quality and variety of synthetic grasses that are available has improved dramatically, and cities and water conservation organizations have begun realizing the value of artificial grass as a conservation measure.

Advantages and disadvantages

Advantages

  • Artificial turf can be a better solution when the environment is particularly hostile to natural grass. An arid environment or one where there is little natural light are examples.
  • Ideal for holiday homes when maintenance of lawns is not practical. It is also a solution for elderly homeowners who find the upkeep of lawns too much hard work.
  • Suitable for roof gardens and swimming pool surrounds.
  • Artificial turf pitches can last up to ten years.
  • Some artificial turf systems allow for the integration of fiber-optic fibers into the turf. This would allow for lighting or advertisements to be directly embedded in a playing surface, or runway lighting to be embedded in artificial landing surfaces for aircraft.

Disadvantages

  • The abrasions caused by artificial turf have been linked to a higher incidence of MRSA infections .
  • Some artificial turf requires infill such as silicon sand and/or granulated rubber made from recycled car tires. This material may carry heavy metals which can leach into the water table.
  • Periodic disinfection is required as pathogens are not broken down by natural processes in the same manner as natural turf. Despite this, recent studies suggest certain microbial life is less active.
  • Turf toe is a medical condition which is often associated with playing on artificial turf pitches.
  • Friction between skin and artificial turf causes abrasions and/or burns to a much greater extent than natural grass. This is an issue for some sports: for example, football in which sliding maneuvers are common and clothing does not fully cover the limbs. However, with some third-generation artificial grasses, this is almost completely eliminated by the use of polyethylene yarn.
  • Artificial turf tends to be much hotter than natural grass when exposed to the sun.
  • Many players claim that the lack of "give" in artificial turf leads to strain and injury in the legs, especially amongst players used to playing on natural grass. Some players refuse to play on artificial turf, and there have been cases of players not signing with a particular team for fear of damaging their legs by playing on artificial turf.

See also

References

External links

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