All artificial grass systems that have been approved in the Netherlands are documented in a so-called sports surface list for football, managed by NOC*NSF. This is a database that buyers of a sports field can consult to see whether their specific preferences or requirements are already available. Moreover, buyers can check if what they have been offered has been tested in terms of sports functionality and quality.
But FIFA, too, does its part when it comes to determining standards. It does this in the form of the FIFA Quality Concept (FIFA QC). FIFA QC was updated in 2009, 2012 and again in 2015 according to the latest insights in the field of sports characteristics and the quality of artificial grass. FIFA QC has two levels: FIFA Quality (previously FIFA*) and FIFA Quality Pro (previously FIFA**). Quality focuses on a sustainably well-performing basic level, specifically intended for grassroots sports. Quality Pro is geared towards sporting performance at top level, for example for stadium pitches, where the emphasis lies less on the lifespan of the field.
The Dutch Football Association, KNVB, has decided that, starting from 1 January 2010, all artificial grass fields laid in the Netherlands must comply with the FIFA standards.
The most significant change in the FIFA QC 2015 is the introduction of the Lisport XL durability test. This is a new, mechanical method of forecasting the long-term characteristics of an artificial grass field after many hours of use. To meet the FIFA Quality Inspection demands, 6020 cycles must be completed and 3000 cycles for Quality Pro.
The Lisport XL machine runs on a testing area of 5x1 metres on which the total artificial grass system is installed. Using this methodology, it is now even possible to measure the ball roll after pitch use – and therefore the performance level of an artificial grass fibre in the long term.
The sports-technical laboratory at TenCate Grass has been using the new Lisport XL machine since December.
Another new standard of the FIFA QC is that the white lines on the sports fields must be tested separately. Also, the UV test for fibres and filler material has been increased to 5000 hours, and a FIFA Quality Pro system will from now on be tested on spattering of infill and temperature increase under simulated sunlight.
After successful laboratory testing, an artificial grass system can be laid. An artificial grass system is then only awarded a FIFA certificate once it meets the requirements of the FIFA Quality Concept for, among other things, evenness, ball roll, ball bounce, shock absorption, vertical deformation and rotation resistance. What's more, since 2015 FIFA demands that the values of the individual measuring points on the field must fall within a maximum deviation of the field average.
The ultimate goal of all this extensive testing work is to ensure the players have an optimum and consistently performing playing field. Keeping a field like this in top condition also requires intensive maintenance. Over the years, research and practical experience have provided us with more and more insight into the best ways of keeping artificial grass surfaces in good condition according to the set requirements. For instance, TenCate Grass has developed fibre types that stay upright better, giving the ball a roll that stays true to nature. Above all, any hardening of the ground can be prevented much better by using new filling materials and shock pads. And of course it is always important for the artificial grass to maintain its natural look. Thanks to new technological developments, it's becoming virtually impossible to tell artificial grass from natural grass these days.
Maintenance is important, in combination with monitoring the technical properties of the artificial grass field. This can be done by periodically checking the infill thickness, the ball roll, the ball bounce, the slip/skid resistance and the shock absorption. Clubs and associations can quite easily monitor their own pitches, but they can also call in help from inspection bodies that use professional testing equipment. If the measurements are conducted properly and regularly, it is also possible to take appropriate action if the field's technical playing properties are not up to standard. This can be done, for instance, by topping up the infill material locally, improving the verticality of the fibre or cancelling out surface compaction.
The performance on the field naturally plays a crucial role. With the help of a camera system that registers three-dimensional movement, it is possible to follow the movements of the athletes on the field and to calculate the forces behind these movements. The results of these calculations allow you to optimise the artificial grass field to perfection.
Standardised values indicate how an athlete experiences the field in terms of hardness (shock absorption), stability (vertical deformation) and elasticity (energy restitution). These values are directly related to injury proneness and the extent to which the field feels tiring to play on.
Artificial grass pitches in football stadiums will be tested worldwide in accordance with the FIFA Quality Concept. As soon as the pitches are fully approved, the stadiums are reissued with the licences needed in order to host international football matches.
At TenCate, we view the FIFA standards as the absolute minimum in terms of quality and acceptance level of artificial grass fields. It therefore remains important for us to continue doing new research and working on product development to create the perfect sports field. We like to speak of an ‘engineered’ sports field at TenCate, which allows us to create the perfect playing conditions across the globe.
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