FIFA’s Research & Standards Department hosted a test event for the Natural Playing Surfaces Quality Programme at the “Ciudad Deportiva del Granada CF” in Spain during the week of September 18, 2023. The event was a testament to the collaborative spirit of LaLiga and the Granada CF club, who generously provided two natural training pitches for the event.
The FIFA Natural Playing Surfaces Quality Programme is the result of a collaborative effort from a group of renowned agronomists from various organisations including FIFA, UEFA, member associations, consulting companies, and test institutes. The programme aims to ensure the quality of natural playing surfaces around the world by providing a standardised approach to testing and evaluation.
FIFA’s rating scale of pitch quality
The test event saw participation from nine test institutes with one seeking initial accreditation and the other eight renewal of their current one. These FIFA-accredited test institutes are authorised to produce FIFA reports for the assessment of natural pitches.
The test event was structured into four half-days of rigorous testing. Participants were divided into two groups. Each group was assigned one pitch to test while the other group tested the second pitch. Following this, they switched pitches and performed the same tests.
Map of test locations
As a result of this process, each pitch underwent a thorough evaluation by all the test institutes assessing both performance and agronomy of the pitches. This includes aspects such as player-surface interaction and ball-surface interaction tests, as well as sward height, root and thatch depth, moisture content, ground coverage, compaction severity, and surface hardness.
FIFA statistically analysed the test results of all participating institutes to accredit those that met the standards.
FIFA statistical analysis
The event also served as a platform for the introduction of new ideas and the presentation of promising innovations for the programme. FIFA took the opportunity of having all its accredited institutes at the same place to conduct on-site R&D regarding the calibration of football rebound height. The R&D aimed at collecting more reliable data on the consistency of vertical ball rebound on natural surfaces. FIFA had already collected a large dataset on artificial surfaces on-site and in the laboratory. This research could potentially lead to a change in the current FIFA test method for assessing vertical ball rebound on playing surfaces by modifying the football calibration method.
Several companies also presented their latest technologies and innovations for natural playing surfaces at the event. Labosport presented its Redbox equipment measurements. This equipment provides more accurate NDVI measurements due to its controlled and standardised environment for capturing images. The standardised box opens new opportunities for objective measurements such as ground coverage and sward colour uniformity.
Sports Labs showcased its Field Marshall device to gather more data and validate their algorithms. FIFA is closely looking at this device’s development as it could significantly reduce the weight of testing equipment. Sports Labs has already supplied a large set of field test data to compare this lightweight AAA device with the current AAA device mentioned in the FIFA test manual. The next stage of development involves validating the new AAA algorithms for shock absorption, peak deformation, and energy return, set to be released by FIFA in 2024.
Microgaia, a Spanish company, presented a portable quantitative PCR test device capable of detecting up to 16 pathogens on-site within an hour. They demonstrated the entire procedure from sampling method to result delivery.
Time is vital when treating diseases on natural surfaces, and this on-site procedure could replace laboratory analyses that typically take 48-72 hours. This would democratise qPCR analysis for pitch assessments, making it more accessible and affordable.
The FIFA Natural Playing Surfaces test event was a successful platform for testing and evaluating new technologies and innovations, as well as for collaboration and knowledge-sharing among the participating testing institutes. The event outcomes will help to further improve the quality of natural playing surfaces around the world and ensure that players have safe and optimal conditions to perform at their best.