High-tech turf that combines real grass with synthetic microfibers and cork is helping reduce injuries and keep pitches playable during the heavy rainfall that has marked the European Championships in France this month.
Heavy rain at the start of the championships made it hard for newly laid grass at stadiums in Lille and Marseille to take root, leading to problems during matches.
However, four out of the 10 pitches taking part in the tournament – Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux and Toulouse – have been laid with high-tech grass, known as AirFibr, and are performing very well.
The technology is one of a number of innovations that are improving the experience of fans, players and European businesses during the four-yearly competition.
AirFibr is made of normal grass, except the roots are embedded in synthetic fibres rather than soil, while extra-fine silica sand allows drainage without getting muddy so the pitch never gets flooded or dried out.
The radical new turf, which is also being used at the Arsenal training centre in the UK and by Real Madrid in Spain, is much easier on players’ ankles and knees than normal earth.
Compressed cork is used as an organic shock absorber, so that as players run, the air is squeezed out of the cork, cushioning the impact before springing back into shape so the terrain never degrades.
Tests conducted by Natural Grass, the company behind AirFibr, have shown it has a big impact on in-game injuries.
‘When people perform sports on AirFibr the soil is able to absorb the energy of the shock and hence protect the athletes,’ said Dr Sylvain Massip, coordinator of the ScalinGreen project which is using EU funds to help the company scale up AirFibr.
To confirm their design, the team conducted tests with players, noting the force applied as they performed various manoeuvres on the pitch, and found they received 40 % less impact on their body when playing on the grass.
The technology also enables grass to be durable enough for both football and rugby games to be played on the same pitch.
‘That’s obviously very interesting for everybody because building and maintaining a second stadium when you have a second team is very costly,’ explained Dr Massip.
Fintan Burke and Ben Deighton
Read the article on Horizon Magazine, European Commission HERE