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Field technicians of Labosport, Sports Labs and several other international testing institutes saw themselves being put to the test last week when FIFA and World Rugby hosted their round robin for testing institutes. Exactly what does such a round robin entail?

Judging by the pictures several participants shared via their various communication channels, the event was certainly a good occasion to catch up with (industry) colleagues from elsewhere around the world. Nonetheless, these round robins mean serious business. FIFA, World Rugby and FIH have strict criteria when it comes to the quality and safety of a synthetic turf field and they want to be sure the criteria are validated by specialists.

Round robins are used to test the field test as well as laboratory test capabilities of each testing institute that wants to be accredited by the governing bodies.

The field test round robin is hosted by FIFA and World Rugby once a year. For financial and logistical reasons, the International Hockey Federation (FIH) normally hosts its round robin tests nearby or at the same location. Each test institute that wants to be accredited by one or more of the international sports governing bodies is required to have at least one accredited technician in accordance with this body. FIFA even expects participating testing institutes to send at least one team of two to four technicians.

The round robin site

The site where the round robin takes places needs to have a mild to warm climate to assure the test is not interfered with by changing or poor weather conditions during the week. It also needs to have at least one field, but preferably two, for the specific sports for which the capabilities of the technicians are tested.

Participating testing institutes are often invited to suggest a location, providing the site meets the abovementioned criteria and also has sufficient hotel capacity to host all delegates nearby. The 2022 round robin took place in Torrelodones (Spain) and had 120 participants from 17 participating test institutes from 12 countries.

Participating testing institutes are required to bring their own testing equipment for each participating technician as well as a certificate confirming that the equipment has been calibrated (recently).

What is being tested?

Round robin tests take two to three days, depending on the number of participants. The week usually starts with an update by the hosting sports governing bodies as well as a theoretical exam for all participants. For the World Rugby and FIFA field test itself, participants are expected to show they can perform the following tests satisfactorily:

  • Evenness and visual inspection
  • Vertical deformation
  • Shock absorption
  • Energy restitution
  • Rotational resistance
  • Vertical ball rebound
  • Impact attenuation (HIC)
  • Infill depth

World Rugby also provides each testing institute with turf, infill and shock pad samples and expects them to undertake the appropriate tests specified in the Performance Specification.

As FIFA and World Rugby have not adopted quality standards for natural grass or hybrid turf fields (yet), currently the round robin only validates the performance of field technicians on synthetic turf fields.

Each technician is expected to complete all testing by him or herself without any assistance. Assistance is only allowed in terms of moving the equipment.

For each test, benchmark testers will be determined and the variance of the results of individual technicians will be established. When the technician has three results exceeding the specific number of outliers on an individual test, he or she will be considered to have failed.

Accreditation

The technician is expected to pass all tests. The same applies to the testing institute. Only once the testing institute has proven to be compliant will a technician who has delivered successful results be issued with an accreditation. It usually takes the sports governing body a maximum of one month to establish the final results. The names of technicians who are FIFA accredited are also uploaded to the FIFA website to allow anybody interested to check whether the by the testing institute appointed field technician is validated accordingly.

The accreditation is valid for five years and the technician is expected to pass another round robin before the accreditation will be extended. Technicians who fail the round robin will have a one-year window to proof differently.

ISO 17025

The round robin is an addition to the compulsory ISO 17025 certification each test laboratory is required to possess if the laboratory and its staff want to test synthetic turf installations. ISO certification is usually done by the national accreditation board.

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