• Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

Success for dry turf requires different mindset

The decision by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) to postpone the introduction of dry turf at top level for the time being says less about the quality of the current innovations and more about the change that developed hockey nations will have to make.

The FIH’s decision to have the 2026 World Cup in Belgium and the Netherlands played on a water-based synthetic turf surface after all, sparked rumours about the status of the latest development. The FIH took the decision fairly shortly after its first official test with this type of surface in Oman in January this year. Proponents of the decision pointed to the unusually high number as well as the severity of injuries that forced several participants in the Hockey5s World Cup to leave Oman prematurely. The FIH put its decision into perspective by pointing to the need for the World Cup organisers to take certain decisions this year. “The pitch in Belgium’s new national hockey stadium will be installed this year and its original budget and design did not include a sprinkler system. By taking this decision, we will give the organisation ample time to adjust the budget and design to still have a World Cup quality surface installed,” the FIH said in its announcement. Yet Jan Willem Boon of Polytan, FIH Olympic and World Cup Hockey Turf Partner, is anything but disappointed. “We already meet the criteria the FIH has set for dry turf,” he says. “The Paris Olympics will be played on a dry turf pitch that has been tested as such. The only difference is that the organisers knew beforehand that it is allowed to spray the pitches. They will do so because it is expected by the players. These players have not had enough time to become familiar with a completely dry synthetic turf hockey surface.”

Boon claims that the concept is being increasingly well received, especially in those countries for which the FIH envisaged an improvement. “People in Africa are lyrical about the pitch,” he notes, referring to the first approved dry turf pitch in South Africa. Such a pitch has also already been built in France, Germany, and England, and at an arid site in Namibia. These too are said to have been well received. “When you have seen the surface they played on before, you will understand that this is quite an improvement for these clubs, both in terms of the sports as well as the providing of a quality surface. They are now no longer dependent on scarce water to still play the type of hockey that is played by the established hockey nations. It also saves in the construction costs of the pitch.” It is precisely these kinds of savings that were the point of departure for the FIH logic behind dry turf.

Requires change of mindset

Boon calls the ease with which we have access to clean water, especially in Europe and North America, as the limiting factor for embracing the new development. “Water is so cheap and readily available in these regions that we don’t consider its use for watering sports surfaces to be wasteful.” Matthijs Verhoef of CSC Sport/Greenfields concurs. “Hockey players in India, Spain, Australia, Germany and France already have embraced our dry turf concept. When asked for their preference, they will mention a wet surface first. However, next comes our Pure EP, well before their choice of a water pitch in dry conditions, let alone a sand-dressed synthetic turf surface.” Both Verhoef and Boon are concerned about the negative attitude in many Western countries. “We focus too much on the negatives,” states Verhoef. Boon adds, “Especially in the Netherlands, you have very much a ‘Yes but’ attitude, plus everyone expects their opinion to be considered.” Both believe it is only a matter of time and habituation before dry turf is widely embraced, even in Western countries. “Players initially describe the pitch as annoying or troublesome. It takes them three to four months to get used to it. Once they are familiar with the surface, they admit that they can play perfectly well on this surface,” Verhoef argues. The reason is obvious, says Chantal Mies. “This surface allows you to apply techniques that you cannot do on sand-dressed surfaces,” says the Head of Infrastructure Affairs at the Dutch hockey federation KNHB. Facilitating the 3D hockey that characterises modern hockey was precisely one of the parameters for which the FIH adjusted the requirements for dry turf. “It is very important to bring these kinds of differences to the forefront when a club is considering investing in such a concept.” According to Mies, wearing the right footwear can also make a difference. “I applaud it when players match their footwear to the pitch. In the past, you used to have one type of shoe for all kinds of surfaces but that has changed over the years. The same now applies to dry turf: this type of surface also requires its own shoe design.”

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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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