All is set for a new FIFA Handbook of Test Methods to be finished by the end of this year. The last time FIFA introduced a new handbook was in 2015, with minor changes or additions made in the years since.
The 2023 edition will have a new test and requirements for the Advanced Artificial Athlete (AAA) as well as a new test and requirements for the Rotational Resistance and Traction test.
Most importantly, FIFA Quality Pro surfaces will be benchmarked to hybrid systems in elite stadiums, while FIFA Quality synthetic turf, surfaces developed for football at grass roots level, will be benchmarked to good quality fully natural systems.
Advanced Artificial Athlete
The new AAA test can be done by the same device that is currently being used and will only require the device to make a single drop, compared to the three drops at present. FIFA motivates this change by pointing out that the three drops eventually make the surface compact and that the average of the 2nd and 3rd drop do not reflect the true vertical deformation experienced.
Furthermore, once the new handbook comes into effect, tests will also report on the energy returned.
Rotational Traction Athlete
In the new handbook, the Rotational Resistance Tester will be replaced by the Rotational Traction Athlete. The new device will report peak torque as well as rotational shear stiffness.
The handbook will also include the updated infill categories FIFA introduced last year. Furthermore, the football governing body intends to include information that will help buyers to get a picture of the overall price of an installation by addressing subbase technology developments. This includes developments regarding the stability, drainage, water management, durability and heat retention capacity of the synthetic turf surface.
FIFA Handbooks are the result of the FIFA Technical Advisory Group, which consists of representatives of FIFA, the eight FIFA preferred producers, five standard licensee representatives, the six FIFA approved test institutes, 10 to 15 member associations and confederations, industry bodies STC and ESTC as well as World Rugby and FIH.
Hybrid to replace grass as ‘the norm’
Impressed by the consistency of the eight hybrid pitches used at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, FIFA has also decided to use hybrid systems at elite stadiums as the norm for FIFA Quality Pro synthetic turf used in the highest football competitions.
Although there are lay-and-play (carpet) hybrid systems and stitched systems, mainly the latter is used by stadiums around the world.
According to tests conducted by Loughborough University and Labosport on a number of hybrid, synthetic and natural grass surfaces, hybrid fields have the advantage that their performance is easier to predict and to maintain, due to the engineered nature of the surface.
The new handbook will not replace the 2015 edition. However, as FIFA anticipates that buyers always want to have to best product (quality) available, it will go without saying that buyers will pursue synthetic turf surfaces that will comply with the latest Handbook of Test Methods.