• Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

Africa welcomes dry turf

St. Andrews School in Bloemfontein, South Africa, has inaugurated the first dry turf hockey surface on the African continent, with several more installations following soon. While associations, clubs and stakeholders in more developed hockey-minded countries claim that the concept requires additional research, it appears that schools, clubs and associations in Africa embrace the concept unconditionally.

The International Hockey Federation (FIH) hails the inauguration as a “historical moment for hockey, as it is the first ever turf containing no sand and not requiring any irrigation to be installed in the African continent. The dry turf technology makes hockey more accessible to all regions of the world and is particularly effective in places that suffer from water shortage issues.”

The inauguration happened to be at a time when Johannesburg, just 400km north from Bloemfontein, is experiencing a near-collapse of the water system. The city, with over 3 million inhabitants, and which is considered as the economic powerhouse of the country, is currently heavily dependent on water tankers to deliver its inhabitants a basic service. The authorities fear that the situation will even worsen later this year when the continent is expected to be hit by the consequences of an El Nino.

More to come

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony in Bloemfontein, FIH EB member and SAHA President Deon Morgan said: “I’m particularly glad and touched that South Africa has been chosen to welcome this non-watered pitch that will undoubtedly benefit the growth of our sport. Dry turf represents a major opportunity for our sport to grow and I’m confident that there will be many more such pitches being installed in our country and on our continent soon.”

While the president of the South African Hockey Association delivered his speech, the installation crew of Trompie Sport, the contractor who installed the Polytan surface on a Trocellen shockpad, was finalizing plans to install their next dry turf project in neighbouring Namibia.

Also, earlier this year, FIH president Tayyab Ikram agreed, together with the Kenyan (hockey) authorities, to refurbish the national hockey stadium of Kenya as a modern pitch. Even though the FIH president didn’t specifically mention ‘dry turf’, it almost goes without saying that he was referring to such a product, as FIH views a surface that requires no watering to perform as the future for the sport.

‘Rich-world problem’

The embracing by St. Andrews School, as well as other hockey authorities on the African continent, makes it clear that the hockey fraternity in water-scarce countries still have a firm belief in the dry turf concept.

This, despite FIH recently announcing that, based on the feedback it received during the recent Hockey5s World Cup in Oman, the concept still requires additional research and development before it could be rolled out for elite-level hockey matches around the world in the run-up to the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

“To date, the venue in Oman is the only warm weather facility to have installed a dry turf surface, and it is also the only facility to have been used by elite level players in a high-level competition. We learnt much from the FIH Hockey5s World Cup. This will allow us to enhance our quality standards for dry turf surfaces and for manufacturers to develop surfaces that offer enhanced performance in temperate, warm, and hot climates,” FIH told Sportsfields.Info at the time.

More recently, an African hockey official encapsulated their challenges by pointing out that they don’t have the luxury of sitting back, pending new developments. “We are dealing with water issues every day. To us, any quality surface that will require less or no water to perform and allows us to play hockey will be a major step forward.”

Speaking on the side at an industry event in Portugal, Friedemann Söll of FIH Partner Polytan, assured Sportsfields.Info that the company is committed to further develop dry turf for hockey.

“It is certainly a challenge, but ever since the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, we have been reducing the reliance of hockey surfaces on water. The turf used at the Olympic Games in Tokyo required 39% less water for optimal performance than the turf used in Rio only four years earlier. The Hockey5s event in Oman earlier this year was another opportunity for us to obtain feedback in the process of further improving the product.” He considers it to only be a matter of time before dry turf becomes the norm for hockey around the world.

Guy Oldenkotte

Guy Oldenkotte is senior editor of sportsfields.info and has been covering the outdoor sportssurfaces market and industry since 2003

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