Dry turf

Based on feedback received following the recent Hockey5s World Cup in Oman, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) has decided that the 2026 World Cup tournaments will still be played on a watered surface. The decision puts the timeline for the innovation in turmoil and could possibly jeopardize the Olympic status of hockey.

The recently held Hockey5s World Cup tournament was the first event where the dry turf concept was officially trialled in a warm and dry climate. In addition to a Polytan dry turf concept, FIH also used in Oman a special ball that absorbs and releases water to test possible solutions to reduce the sport’s dependence on water.

Shortly after the tournament, FIH issued a press release stating that it had decided to still use a watered surface for the upcoming 2026 World Cup tournament. This tournament will jointly be hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands.

“FIH is committed to the ongoing development and introduction of surfaces using Dry Turf Technology, but in doing so we have to ensure the quality of the new turfs meets the needs of elite-level hockey players, both in terms of performance and player welfare; and is able to do so in all climates in which hockey is played,” Sportsfields.info was told. “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 decided to make such decision in the interest of the procurement timelines and in order to ensure optimal preparations both for the co-organisers for the 2026 World Cup and the participating teams.

“You will surely appreciate that, as with any major international sporting event, the hosts of the 2026 FIH Hockey World Cup need to know well in advance what type of surface will be provided and the necessary supporting infrastructure it requires. Likewise, major hockey playing nations will wish to install training fields so they become familiar with whatever surface is being used for the World Cup.  This requires them to make decisions well in advance of the event.”

Development to worry about?

The decision can be described as bold, as FIH, in recent years, has put a lot of effort into identifying player preferences and translating these into new testing procedures to establish the quality of dry turf concepts the industry wants to introduce. Sportsfields.Info discussed these developments in this article almost two years ago.

“With much of Europe experiencing extremely high temperatures during last year’s summer, the lessons from Oman become more meaningful. Not only are the qualities of the playing surface very important, but so are issues around heat stress, etc.; with tournament schedules often requiring play throughout the day, the cooling provided by a wet turf was identified as an important factor for players,” FIH told Sportsfields.info.

While all this makes logical sense and serves the interest of the organizers, the Hockey5s World Cup in Oman, also saw a significant number of players getting injured.

Serge Pilet, the CEO of the Belgian Hockey Association told Belgian press agency Belga that “several players were injured, such as the Dutch captain.” Sportsfields.info has learnt that at least three female players left the tournament with cruciate ligament issues. “The health of the athletes is essential. So a decision had to be made,” Pilet added.

Commercial development?

The decision is grist to the mill of the synthetic turf industry in both Belgium and the Netherlands.

In Oman, FIH used a product developed by its partner Polytan. In October 2021, both FIH and Polytan announced an extension of their partnership through 2024, with a renewed focus on sustainability efforts in hockey turf development and accessibility. This extension suggests a continued commitment from both parties, and there is no official information about an end date beyond 2024.

Having that said, partnerships like this are usually reviewed after a World Cup or Olympic tournament. As the next Olympic tournament will be held this summer, it is possible that the FIH-partnership will become available to the market.

With the 2026 World Cup tournament being co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands, other companies like Greenfields, Edel Grass or Lano Sports might be vying for such an agreement. All three companies have told Sportsfields.Info they already have a dry turf concept, although Greenfields is the only one that has introduced a radically new design that is to comply with the new FIH Global Standard.

The products Edel Grass and Lano Sports have referred to already complied in 2019, so they say, but haven’t been tested according to the new criteria FIH introduced for dry turf.

Troubled future?

The drive to develop and introduce a dry turf surface is mainly driven by FIH’s desire to have the sport become compliant to the UN Millennium Goals.

At the time these goals were identified, a hockey turf surface would require 32,000 l of water per game at an official tournament. With water becoming an increasingly scarce commodity, FIH deemed this dependence undesirable. Over the years, this dependence has been gradually reduced, but the decision to host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles has added additional pressure on the sport.

The city of Los Angeles as well as the State of California has some serious water issues. Had FIH not responded, it would have been likely that hockey would not have made the cut. Contrary to ice hockey, field hockey is not a big sport in the United States. And with the fan-base for rugby and basketball, to name a couple, recently starting to grow significantly, and the fact that these sports are significantly less demanding in terms of surfaces, it wouldn’t have been unthinkable for LA 2028 to not include the sport. If that would have been the case, the Olympic status of hockey, and all subsequent financial (Olympic) incentives and media attention, could have further jeopardized the sport.

FIH emphasizes that it is “committed to the ongoing development and introduction of surfaces using Dry Turf Technology”. However, the press release does not say anything about what this will mean to other events where it had planned to further test the surface. In addition to the 2026 World Cup, FIH was also planning to use the surface at the 2026 Youth Olympics in Senegal. It goes without saying that it also wants to introduce the players to the surface at another high-pressure tournament to avoid they’ll be taken by surprise by the time they arrive in LA for the 2028 Olympics. Sportsfields.info has asked FIH for clarification and will update this article once this has been received.

Because with the 2032 Summer Olympics being hosted in another place that has water issues, namely, Brisbane in Australia, it can be safely assumed that dry turf will still be pursued for the future.

 

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