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Studies support suitability of synthetic turf for soccer pitches

July 7, 2010  - By

As the U.S. soccer team prepares for its June 12 match with England in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, it’s timely to spotlight two studies that underlie the decision by FIFA, the international governing body of international football or soccer, to promote synthetic turf, or ‘football turf’ as it calls third-generation infilled synthetic turf sports fields, as a “credible alternative” where climactic conditions and/or high usage make it impossible to maintain a high quality and safe grass sports field or pitch.  Furthermore, FIFA has established that there is a good return on an investment in synthetic turf pitches because of its high utilization and low cost of operation.

One study was funded by UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) and compared for the first time the injury risk in elite football played on artificial turf compared to natural grass. The study was conducted by J. Ekstrand, T. Timpka, and M. Hägglund and the results were published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine2006; 40:975-980.

The study compared the injuries sustained by 290 players from 10 elite European football clubs playing on third-generation synthetic turf and 202 players from the Swedish Premier League playing on grass. Both the incidence of injury and injury severity were the same for both surfaces, though the risk of ankle sprain was higher in matches on synthetic turf. In summarizing the study’s results, the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported, “no evidence of a greater risk of injury was found when football was played on artificial turf compared with natural grass.  The higher incidence of ankle sprain on artificial turf warrants further attention, although the result should be interpreted with caution as the number of ankle sprains was low.”

The second study was commissioned by FIFA to determine if the nature of the game when played on ‘football turf’ was significantly different than when played on the best grass surface. To answer this important question, FIFA called upon ProZone to analyze 100 matches played in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada, in Holland’s top division, and in the UEFA Champions League.

In conducting its video analysis, ProZone looked in detail at over 30 factors measuring player and ball movement throughout each match, including passing accuracy, number of fouls, shots on target, and ‘ball in play’ time. The comprehensive study concluded “there are no significant differences in the objective data from the technical studies to date focusing on football turf versus top-quality natural grass.”

As was reported in the June 14 issue of TIME magazine, in the U.S. soccer has more participants than any other sport, except basketball.  As has been validated by these two studies, playing on synthetic turf sports fields is comparable to playing on the very best grass fields, both in terms of safety and the way the game is played.

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