ESTC and STC join FIFA’s Technical Advisory Group

The EMEA Synthetic Turf Council (ESTC), Synthetic Turf Council (STC) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will see the ESTC and STC joining FIFA’s all-important Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

The FIFA TAG reports directly to the International Football Association Board (IFAB). This board determines the Laws of the Game of association football.

Currently the TAG consists of representatives of the various FIFA Preferred Producers and FIFA Approved Laboratory Test Institutes, as well as representatives from FIFA licensees and member associations.

It has been agreed that the ESTC and STC will be bestowed the Observer Status. This status is currently only reserved for World Rugby and Dr. Eric Harrison, an independent consultant with a long track record in synthetic turf.

ESTC Director General Stefan Diderich is very pleased to join the table where all important developments, research and ambitions regarding synthetic turf for football are being discussed and considered. “The STC and ESTC represent the entire value chain in synthetic turf for football. Our presence will allow us to better represent the voice and interest of all companies and organisations within the entire industry.

“It will also allow us to add value to the debate about the future of synthetic turf. The advantages synthetic turf offers proof that the game cannot do without this surface. However, we do acknowledge that synthetic turf, the maintenance thereof as well as the general perception of this type of surface can be improved. The possibility to discuss matters directly with representatives of all interest groups will, without a doubt, speed up processes and allow us to become more effective.”

Katharina Wistel, Manager FIFA Quality Programme, said: “For FIFA the cooperation with ESTC and STC is an opportunity for a continuous exchange between the industry stakeholders and the football community. It is also a pledge to engage in an open dialogue about the existing challenges, technical innovations and the performance standard for Football Turf as defined by FIFA.”

Success The Stoop something every sport can build on

As the FIH Pro League double header between England and New Zealand deserved a venue that would do justice to the intentions of the games, the synthetic turf industry took on the challenge and delivered a quality, yet portable, surface. This enabled England Hockey to move the games to a bigger and even more high-profile venue.

The FIH Pro League is the successor of the FIH Champions Trophy and Hockey World League and is set to become the FIH’s drawcard to improve the profile of hockey and increase its global fanbase. Hockey is still the worlds’ third-largest team sport, after football and cricket, but lately it has been missing out on the commercial gains from high-profile tournaments like the football Champions League or commercial cricket leagues. Clever marketing strategies and a proven fanbase in hosting cities and nations have helped the respective sports federations to grow the profile of the game and their international fanbase. FIH’s Pro League has been developed and designed to achieve a similar change but successes will only become reality when hosting cities will play their part of the game.  

Capacity at Twickenham Stoop allowed many more hockey fans to attend the games

The moment it got clear that both the men’s and women’s team could play the respective teams from New Zealand on the same day, England Hockey embarked on a quest to find a venue that would have sufficient capacity to accommodate the crowd anticipated for these games. The rivalry between both powerhouses goes back a long way and the organisers were convinced they could sell significantly more tickets than the approximately 7,000 tickets they would be able to sell from playing at their normal home Lee Valley, the former Olympic venue. Apart from the capacity the venue was also expected to deliver the comfort and atmosphere normally associated with big sports events. After having consulted the Rugby Football Union, contact was made with management of Twickenham Stoop stadium, home ground to Harlequins Rugby Club. The choice certainly got the blessing from Jamie Hindhaugh, COO of BT Sport, the media partner of England Hockey. “We are big hockey fans at BT Sport and it’s fantastic to see the game continue to go from strength to strength. We are delighted that The Stoop will host a double header on FIH Pro League final day, it’s a venue that we know well which will help create a fantastic atmosphere and great TV.”

Nothing left to chance

FIH and England Hockey couldn’t have wished for a better partner than Harlequins Rugby Club. The reason why the club is one of the oldest and most-recognised rugby club in the world, is thanks to its drive to always wanting to innovate. “Our club has a history of innovation and adventure and we take great pride in being able to offer our neighbours and supporters the chance to see something different at The Stoop,” Harlequins CEO David Ellis said while explaining their eagerness to get involved in the project. Installation of the temporary hockey pitch could start early June, providing the venue would be handed back in time and in a condition the club would be able to prepare itself for the upcoming rugby season.

Installing a synthetic turf for a temporary hockey event is nothing new. In 1998 and in 2014 stadiums in Utrecht and The Hague, both in the Netherlands, had permanent synthetic turf hockey structures installed for the Hockey World Cups. What made the intentions from England Hockey different was that, this time, the field should be designed as a temporary structure that would not damage the existing field and that could be use again in the future.  

Permavoid geocellular sub-base with ProPlay shockpad

In close partnership with England Hockey, FIH Global Partner Polytan, shockpad supplier Schmitz Foam Products, sub-base and water management experts Polypipe, natural sports turf research and development institute STRI Group, Harlequins Rugby Club, England Hockey and the FIH, set off to design and establish the field. Small scale trial works had been carried out at STRI UK already and all parties involved had analysed the efficacy of the prototype. Pro hockey players had also been invited to play on the test pitch and had given it their blessing. Once it was established that the prototype could be upscaled, a further trial was established at Bisham Abbey which replicated the crown formation at Twickenham Stoop. “This helped us to determine the required performance parameters to meet the requirements of hockey without damaging the existing pitch,” STRI senior design consultant, James Westwood explained. “This involved modification of the existing crown formation over the pitch to provide the finer surface tolerances and gradients required for the game of hockey, as well as enhancing the existing drainage which would also benefit the Harlequins in the longer term.”

Innovative system

Establishing the groundworks took a bit more time this year. “We first removed the turf, levelled the ground and enhanced the drainage of the existing field so we could provide the platform on which the temporary hockey pitch is be installed,” FIH Facilities & Programme Manager Alastair Cox. Thanks to the preparations, any future installations of the hockey field would only require installing the field itself. The plan will be that Harlequins rugby club plays rugby one weekend, then a hockey pitch is built over the turf to allow hockey games being played the following weekend, before the temporary structure is taken out again to ensure the venue will be ready to host its usual rugby event the weekend after. “Our aim is to be in and out of a stadium in six to eight days during which we will install the pitch, play the match and remove the pitch again.” 

Games were played on a Poligras Tokyo GT surface, the same surface that will be used for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Games were played on a Poligras Tokyo GT surface, the same surface that will be used for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Once groundworks were finished, a unique Permavoid geocellular sub-base was installed to create a stable, high-quality playing surface that can be quickly and cost-effectively re-created on any scale, in any location and on any existing surface. Over 24,000 interconnected 85mm deep units were installed. Its open cell structure provides a temporary attenuation volume to receive any excess water from the surface. Eliminating the risk of any surface water ponding, while allowing it to infiltrate to ground at the sub-soil’s natural rate. The sub-base was topped with a high-density, ridgid ProPlay shockpad from Schmitz Foam Products to maintain the level integrity of the finished surface before it was completed with Poligras Tokyo GT. The FIH Global Supplier has specifically developed the new surface for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The yarn is made up for 60% from renewable resources. More importantly, this surface requires two-thirds less water than the surfaces used at previous Olympics.

Delivery as planned

The whole project truly delivered as planned. The two games were played to an almost capacity crowd of 15,000 spectators, granting many more fans the opportunity to attend the games. They also enjoyed the comfort of a venue specifically built to accommodate sports enthusiasts and to quickly and comfortably provide for all their needs. There is no doubt that gate fees and revenue generated from selling food, beverages and souvenirs ended being significantly higher that what used to be during previous hockey games. Sponsors and officials also enjoyed the luxury and comfort of the existing hospitality suites while, perhaps evenly important, media and broadcasters could immediately tap in existing infrastructure to broadcast the games. The success of the project was rounded off by the fact that both the English men’s team, as well as the women’s team, beat their opponent from New Zealand. The victories were important for both teams as they hadn’t really experienced much success in previous games. It can certainly be claimed that the support of some 15,000 fans made a difference.

Over 14,000 fans witnessed how England beat New Zealand twice

How much the organisers and hockey in general have gained from the event, will become clear in the coming months. Hopefully its success will translate in more sponsors, more players and, above all; more fans. Thanks to the agreement between England Hockey and Twickenham Stoop stadium management, there will be many opportunities and sufficient capacity to cheer on their team. “England Hockey’s plans to host matches at Twickenham Stoop demonstrates the innovative and ambitious thinking our National Associations are investing in the new FIH Pro League,” FIH CEO, Thierry Weil, said when England Hockey unveiled its plans to use a different venue. Without a doubt, ambitious thinking can always count on the synthetic turf industry to deliver.


Infill Working Group makes progress on standard

The ESTC has made another step in paving the way for a European standard for infill material for 3G synthetic turf pitches.

CEN TC217, WG6-TG1 has agreed to follow most of the working program of the ESTC Infill Working Group.

Technical Committee 217 (‘Surfaces for Sports Areas’) focuses on the harmonisation of standards for sports surfaces in Europe to eliminate trade barriers of these products. The TC consists of various working groups with representatives of the national standardisation bodies as well as technical experts. TC217 has 9 working groups of which Working Group 6 focuses on synthetic turf.

The working group has now agreed to follow and review the ESTC proposal for test methods. This includes an identification test method as well as a durability test method. Adoption of the ESTC test methods will ensure good coordination for standards proposed to guarantee the quality of infill materials.

During the latest meeting, the ESTC Infill Working Group updated their document with ‘infill families’. The ESTC distinguishes the following kinds of infill:

  • Organic: cork, coconut fibre, sugar cane fibre, bark tree, kernels, wood and any mixture of organic materials.
  • Inorganic: Sand, coated sand, recycled inorganic material and any mixture of inorganic materials.
  • Thermosets: Virgin EPDM, recycled EPDM, ELT granules, coated ELT granules, recycled rubber (non-tire rubber), PVC granules and any mixture of thermosets.
  • Thermoplastics: TPE, TPO, PP or PE granules, recycled TPE, recycled TPO, recycled PE or PP and any mixture of thermoplastics.

The test methods identification that the ESTC Infill Working Group, together with CEN271–WG6-TG1, is working on, will consider:

  • Particle size;
  • Density;
  • Particle shape;
  • Colour;
  • Declaration of infill material by the producer.

The durability test method will consider the:

  • Resistance to agglomeration/melting;
  • Resistance to aging and wearing.

Testing institutes Labosport and Kiwa ISA-Sport will organise a round robin to evaluate and validate a new infill wear test method. The ESTC expects to have the first results, as well as a draft proposal for procedures, ready in June.

With members of the CEN TC217-TG1 meeting mid-June, the ESTC Infill Working Group has decided to schedule another conference call this summer. The time and date for this call will be announced in due course.

ESTC welcomes three more new members

ESTC is delighted to announce the introduction of a further three members; CIRFS, Signgrass and Beens Grass Yarns.

CIRFS (European man-made fibre association) is the trade association that represents the interests of the Chemical Fibres industry in Europe. It currently has 28 full members which represents around 80% of European production. CIRFS is responsible for; defending members interests in fighting for Fairtrade, encouraging innovation and promoting standards, amongst a host of other things.

Signgrass is a manufacturer of custom-made synthetic turf that can be used indoors as well as outdoors. The turf that they provide is applicable for a wide range of sports including; football, rugby, hockey and tennis. They also provide for a number of different sports grounds and stadiums as well as leisure areas, playgrounds and parks.

Beens Grass Yarns is an artificial grass producer based in the Netherlands, who specialise in custom made fibres for the leisure and landscape market.

ESTO changes name to ESTC

The European Synthetic Turf Organisation (ESTO) has changed its name to the EMEA Synthetic Turf Council (ESTC). On Monday night, ESTC Director General Stefan Diderich revealed the new name and logo at a networking cocktail reception that marked the start of AMI’s Grass Yarn and Tufters Forum  in Vienna, Austria.

Diderich was assisted by Dan Bond, President of the Synthetic Turf Council (STC).

Stefan Diderich said, ‘Our new name and logo reflect our revitalised ambitions to align our organisation with the international scope of the synthetic turf industry and particularly the industry in Europe, the Middle-East and Africa.’

Market analysts predict that the international synthetic turf industry will be worth US$ 1.7 billion this year.

‘The growing popularity of synthetic turf also comes with a growing responsibility. The ESTC board recognised last year that it would serve the needs of both the market and the industry when we take matters to another level,’ Diderich explained.

The four focus areas identified by the ESTC include the facilitation of networking within the industry; the provision of information to members and the industry at large; supporting its members; and promoting the industry.

‘The upcoming ESTC conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, will be the first opportunity for the industry to experience the new ESTC. Confirmed speakers include representatives from FIFA, FIH, World Rugby and both the Scottish and Dutch FAs. They will present papers on the connection between synthetic turf and their respective sports. We will also discuss the recycling of synthetic turf systems and the latest developments to reduce the environmental footprint of synthetic turf, amongst several other topics currently dominating the industry,’ he concludes. The ESTC conference will take place from 1 to 3 April in Edinburgh, Scotland.