In 2004, after seeing an increase in the use of artificial turf in sporting events and wanting to ensure the safety of users, FIFA initiated the Quality Programme for turf to set the standards for field performance, durability, and safety, among others.
Since then, the international governing body has upgraded their guidelines and employed more rigid tests to not only make fields safer for players, but also more durable for owners.
Anthony Apparailly, FIFA-accredited Test Engineer for artificial turf, talks to us about the program’s history, as well as what the new certification standards mean for facility owners and developers.
How did artificial turf guidelines come about?
“Attempts to create practical alternatives to natural grass started as far back as 1968,” according to Apparailly. With temperature and soil conditions making it difficult for certain countries to maintain natural grass fields, production of artificial turf increased in the last few decades. “Not every country can have natural grass. At some point, we’ve been able to create artificial grass. So the artificial grass in the Philippines, Thailand, and even Singapore and India are manufactured in factories,” Apparailly adds.
This prompted FIFA to step in and encourage manufacturers to develop products that meet a certain standard of quality and safety. “The first priority was safety and the second was durability. The products right now are good [and can last] for 7-10 years, probably even more.” These two factors were not the only ones FIFA considered, however. “You also have to check playability, how the player interacts with the surface, how the ball interacts with the surface. Then you also have to check if it’s installed properly, and how its slope is.”
The original FIFA Recommended One Star and Two Star system was changed to the new FIFA Quality and FIFA Quality Pro rating scheme. But what exactly informed these changes?
“FIFA certifies playing fields, but that is not the only purpose or reason for FIFA. They also listen to the owners to know [more] about what they have to say of the fields, testing institutes, and also the federations [like the AFC],” says Apparailly.
One of the main points brought up by FIFA’s continuous dialogues with the football community’s stakeholders was the desire for lab tests to more accurately simulate the actual wear experienced by fields through use. As a result, FIFA recalibrated its testing process so that stadium owners and operators have a clearer idea of how their fields will fare under real-world conditions.
What’s the Difference Between “Quality” and “Quality Pro”?
“The FIFA Quality Pro is intended to be used [by] clubs or [by] professional teams. It is used by stadiums and big leagues, while FIFA Quality is used more by other [non-professional] facilities,” says Apparailly. The splash test, a new standard included in the guidelines, for example, applies only to FIFA Quality Pro certification.
Given that they are used primarily for international and club competitions, these professional-level fields can be certified only for a period of one year before needing to be re-certified. On the other hand, FIFA Quality-certified fields, owing to their year-round usage and multi-purpose use, may be certified for longer periods of three years.
Which certification should you get?
We would like to reiterate that a FIFA Quality Pro pitch is not necessarily superior to a FIFA Quality one—the two fields serve different purposes, and the new Quality Programme simply reflects that.
If your field will be used for professional matches, a FIFA Quality Pro certification is more appropriate because it guarantees excellent performance.
If your field will be regularly used for practice matches and other non-professional games, a FIFA Quality certification is ideal because it focuses on durability.
How long have the new standards been in place? What will happen to fields that were certified using the old system?
“This year is a transition year,” Apparailly explains, pointing out that the new guidelines are running concurrently with the old manual. “They usually issue the [new] manual a year earlier so we can have a look, ask questions, and fix any misunderstanding. It usually starts [to take effect] after its year of issue.”
Fields are still being tested and recertified using the old guidelines, although this will be the last year when the older manual will be enforced. “New products used and installed in 2016 and onwards will be tested according to the 2015 manual,” according to Apparailly.
What are the benefits of this new classification system? What has been the feedback of clients so far?
“Clients may ask, ‘it was working well, why do we need to change?’ To be honest, it is a good improvement and it is clearer now, because there is a clearer difference between Quality and Quality Pro”, Apparailly quips, recalling instances when buyers would ask whether “one star is better than two.”
“I think it is clearer now, and people could get used to it quickly over time. There are no major changes when it comes to the buyer or the ones installing the fields. It has all been very positive.”
The new guidelines have been in effect for almost a year, and there have been little to no problems during this transition. “The feedback I got from the lab is that it is moving in a good direction. I’ve seen people that appreciate how we test field samples in the lab, which are now much closer to realistic conditions.”
That being said, Apparailly advises field owners and prospective buyers to consider buying products from FIFA-preferred producers to assure the consistency and quality of their fields.
Summing it all up
Artificial turf has become more widely used globally, making pitch quality and player safety more crucial to field owners and operators. After close consultation with stakeholders, FIFA shifted to the new FIFA Quality and FIFA Quality Pro ratings to better serve their needs. The FIFA Quality certification is given to fields intended for prolonged use, while the FIFA Quality Pro rating is intended for fields used in professional and international competitions. From what Apparailly has seen so far, he believes operators will smoothly adapt—and actually prefer—this new system.
Looking for an artificial turf field that will pass FIFA’s stringent standards? E-Sports International is the local partner of Limonta, considered one of the nine FIFA Preferred Producers. For inquires or concerns, send us a message through firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 632.807.2383.