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Reuters: Pele Admires Artificial Turf

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Pele among admirers of artificial turf

By Yara Bayoumy

LONDON, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Pele says he could have improved his career tally of 1,282 goals if only he had played on artificial grass.

Players in Europe aspiring to better the Brazilian great's impressive total may get the chance to test his theory, thanks to UEFA's recent decision to allow artificial pitches to be used in its competitions from next season.


Debate about whether natural or artificial turf is better for players has raged for decades but Pele is a fan of the new generation of synthetic pitches and an advocate for their use at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

"If I had played then on today's artificial grass I would have scored many more goals," Pele told delegates at Stadia magazine's Sports Turf Summit 2004 in Berlin this month. "Players don't get hurt as much as on natural grass."

UEFA said this month that advances in the quality of artificial turf had made it comparable to, or even better than, some natural turfs.

Chief executive Lars-Christer Olsson said UEFA would sanction the use of artificial pitches for matches in the Champions League and UEFA Cup and for qualifiers for the European Championship.

The decision would be a boon to countries with severe winters where maintenance of natural grass was difficult, he said.

Imitation turf has been around since the 1960s but it has gone through difficult times.

In the United States, it was quickly obvious that American football players preferred natural grass to the early makes of artificial surface.

"There was a general consensus that the injury rate on AstroTurf was much higher than on natural grass," said Timothy Gay, professor of physics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and author of 'Football Physics: The Science of the Game'.


Friction, second-degree burns, blistered palms and turf toe, which occurs when a hard surface forces the big toe back into the foot causing ligament and tissue damage, were all common injuries.

"Many teams replaced the AstroTurf with natural grass after heavy injuries...in the NFL, players still prefer natural grass," said Gay.

In comparison to Field Turf, one of the newer versions of artificial turf on the market, the early generation surfaces were much thinner, said Gay.

Field Turf, dubbed "third-generation, long-pile grass" by its manufacturers, is thicker and, thus, less likely to cause injuries, they say.

"What you're hearing in the marketplace is there are a lot of national teams thinking about it as an option," said Pall Halldorsson, CEO of Metatron EHF, an agent for Field Turf in Iceland.

"You get a much truer surface with artificial turf," said Gay, whose university pitch is synthetic. Its "g-max", or maximum acceleration, had remained unchanged for five years, he said. "The field is very consistent...that would be very desirable (for players)."

Although long-term studies had yet to be conducted on Field Turf and its parallels, Halldorsson said, "in actuality (some studies) seem to indicate injury was less than on natural grass."

Soccer's world governing body FIFA have approved some 16 manufacturers of artificial turf which is now installed in around 80 stadiums, including European venues such as Almelo in the Netherlands, Dunfermline in Scotland, Orebro in Sweden and Salzburg in Austria, which were part of UEFA's pilot project on synthetic turf.

Dunfermline's pitch hit local headlines on its debut when a male streaker suffered nasty carpet burns after running on and doing a swallow dive across the surface.

A mixture of rubber, synthetic fibres and sand, artificial turf requires none of the constant maintenance that natural grass needs.


Countries with bad winters and high rainfall find it difficult and expensive to maintain natural grass pitches.

"With clubs with money problems, their cashflow issues would seriously go down," said Gay.

The synthetic pitches would not only reduce maintenance costs but could be easily used to host events such as concerts, bringing additional income to soccer clubs.

Despite that, there are still objections to artificial turf.

English second division club Leeds United had been rumoured to be considering a switch at its Elland Road ground but spokesman Bryan Morris said there were no plans to change the natural grass.

"It's the players that don't like it," said Morris. "You don't get the same control on synthetic."

Clearly, artificial turf still has some convincing to do.

Although UEFA sanctioned artificial turf for qualifying matches in its flagship European Championship, Olsoson insisted the finals would still be played on the real thing.

"If you have a final tournament like a European Championship, I think that it is important to have the same turf to play on, so you don't jump from one turf to the other," said Olsson.

"I cannot imagine that you could change between the different surfaces (in the finals)," Olsson added. "I think that for the 2012 European Championship final round, we would go for natural turf."

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