The secret behind FIFA World Cup pitches
FIFA has entrusted the quality of the pitches for its main tournaments to a small Icelandic company. A few years ago Graspro took the initiative and designed a system to monitor the condition of football pitches. The project quickly took off and now the company is in collaboration with the International Football Association. The CEO says he foresees increased automation in the future.
Although the company Graspro only consists of Einar Friðrik Brynjarsson, Borgar Erlendsson and Kjartan Eiríksson, FIFA has trusted it to monitor the condition of the venues at tournaments, including major tournaments, until 2022. The system has already been used at the Women’s World Cup in France, the World Club Championships in Qatar and the Junior World Championships.
Brynjarsson had worked as a consultant in Iceland for a few years and when he concluded that he needed some kind of technical solution to have an overview. After a trip to the UK, they realized that the pitch management was not much better there.
“You can now see how monitoring of the condition of the field has changed completely in the past 15 years,” says Kjartan Eiríksson. “At that time, the fields in the English league often became muddy as the season went on. We rarely see this today because now the teams have started to apply new methods and technologies.”
Graspro was somewhat ahead of its time in the development of the system and was formed, for example, in collaboration with the FA, the English Football Association, and later FIFA. But FIFA sets very strict requirements for the condition of the pitches competed and practiced at international tournaments, and provides both the resources and the manpower to keep the pitches in order.
FIFA staff travels around and monitors the maintenance of the pitches and feeds the information into Graspro’s system. Some information, such as weather information, information from irrigation systems, lighting and more, is automatically entered into the system. Eiríksson says that the policy is to have more information automated in the future. “We envisage in the future that a system can control the maintenance of the pitches themselves,” he says.
When asked about the most common problems, Eiríksson says they are related to diseases in grass, among other things. Football pitches are a living phenomenon and can get sick like other organisms. It is also important to water and apply in the right proportions. “Use and load are also very important. With this management, FIFA has seen the utilization of the pitches being improved and has been able to reduce the number of training pitches in connection with the tournaments, and thus save a lot of costs, “says Eiríksson.
As mentioned before, the collaboration between FIFA and Graspro will be at least until the men’s world championships in Qatar in 2022. But Eiríksson also see opportunities in individual league competitions and clubs and have been working with individual clubs.
Asked how the three of them handle all this, Eiríksson says that much of the work is outsourced. They also have consultants working for them, such as those responsible for the marketing and analyzing of data. “The superstructure is not big with us, but the product can be,” he says. “FIFA can choose from anything and it is a great honor for us to be selected.”