Lessons learned in the Australasian region played an important role in drafting the latest FIH quality standards for artificial grass hockey pitches. Whether they will improve the surfaces or quality of the game in this area, however, remains to be seen.
The release of the latest quality standards heralds also a new approach by the international hockey federation. “The new standards are more robust but are predominantly meant to stimulate the use of artificial grass in areas where hockey is under-developed,” says Alastair Cox of the FIH.
Australia and New-Zealand are certainly not being considered this kind of hockey nations. Yet the FIH certainly benefitted from lessons learnt in this region, Cox admits. “A major change we have implemented is almost doubling the time samples have to be tested for UV stability.”
Having had to deal with carpets that couldn’t withstand the intense UV experienced in certain parts of the world, a request by the industry to intensify the testing criteria was granted.
“Carpet for hockey is very thin. We don’t have infill to protect the carpet hence our decision to double the compulsory UV testing time to at least 5.000 hours.”
In addition FIH has also made it compulsory to have each different colour yarn the manufacturer is offering for use in artificial grass hockey pitches, to be tested individually. “In the past we accepted that test results of yarn in one particular colour would stand for any other colour the yarn would be made available in. However, having learnt that each colour has a different UV stability we decided to have that reflected in our new quality criteria.”
Another major change is the way FIH now communicates the amount of water an artificial grass hockey pitch requires to provide an optimum playing condition. “In the past we defined wet. In the new requirements we ask the manufacturers to tell us how much water is required to pass the test.
The amount of water required will be mentioned in the certificate that will be issued when we deem the artificial grass hockey pitch to be compliant with all our requirements,” Cox continues.
“By doing so we have forced the manufacturers to become more aware about the issue of water scarcity around the globe and the use of potable water that could serve better human purposes.”
In light of its ambition to grow the sports in underdeveloped nations, the idea of throwing approximately 7.000 litres potable water on an artificial grass hockey surface prior to the game as well as throwing an additional 7.000 litres during the break makes FIH increasingly uncomfortable.
It is a discomfort that is shared by Hockey Australia. “Hockey Australia is quite realistic and aware of the requirements of watering around championships or international matches to ensure high standards of safe play but has taken on measures to keep water consumption as low as possible,” a spokesperson of Hockey Australia says.
“For example, Hockey Australia has implemented hoses and water cannons which isolate to only water where and when required to reduce consumption. We are supportive of using recycled water instead of potable water on hockey fields,” he adds.
According to Stephen Stones, the TenCate Grass Director for the Asia Pacific region, the change will be a major improvement for countries like India and Pakistan. “Most clubs in Australia have decided already to use sand-dressed pitches to address the issue of water scarcity.”
Stones is, however, more chuffed with the new requirements FIH has set for the e-layer. “I believe that should provide a more consistent play.”
The new requirements stipulate different testing criteria for e-layers that are thinner than 25mm and e-layers that are thicker.
“We previously used the European standard for athletics which already indicated that it was not suitable for layers thicker than 25 mm. We have now adopted a testing method from Germany that is able to test layers of that thickness,” Alastair Cox explains.
“It will be a major improvement,” Stephen Stones believes.
“Binder is expensive and we’ve picked up stories of clubs complaining that installers reduced the amount of binder in their e-layer to reduce cost, leaving the club with a surface that was very spongy.”
Spongy surfaces negatively impact the quality of the game and attribute to fatigue.
The new standards will certainly help emerging hockey nations to define ‘quality’ for their artificial grass hockey surfaces.
Stephen Stones believes it won’t really create waves in Australia or New Zealand. “But it will protect the market for inferior quality products, and carpets in particular, to enter the market,” he says.
Perhaps the standards won’t lift hockey in these nations to another level, it certainly will prevent them dropping due to poor quality surfaces or surfaces that have a negative impact on the environment.