The World Cup challenge
STRI had 100 days to deliver ten World Cup tournament pitches, 13 venue-specific training pitches and 40 team base camp pitches to the the exacting standards demanded by FIFA.
We had to ensure all pitches, whether newly constructed, old/established, used or unused, met FIFA standards for the World Cup. This was to be completed in a three month operating window prior to the start of the competition.
- To oversee the construction, renovation and grow-in of all the pitches
- To deliver level, well-draining, firm surfaces.
- To eliminate or suppress the native kikuyu grass in favour of perennial ryegrass on all pitches without compromising management objectives or the playing quality of pitches.
- To ensure consistency within and between pitches through performance testing.
- To provide technical support to the grounds team at each of the World Cup venues.
- To deliver world-class pitches to FIFA standards
An analysis of each site was conducted. The information gained was used to shape the exact renovation process, materials and methods needed. We also drew up an individual maintenance/management programme for each pitch. A typical renovation process consisted of:
- Two applications of approved selective herbicide to suppress the kikuyu grass eight days from renovation and again the day before renovation.
- The removal of surface vegetation using a Koro Field Topmaker. Two passes were made, the second at a slight angle to the first. It not only removed the surface vegetation, but also helped to improve slight surface irregularities. The remaining kikuyu grass stolons and rhizomes would ensure stability.
- On some sites with poor levels, surface cultivation was required followed by box-grading.
- Drainage system installation.
- Irrigation system installation.
- Stone removal and final grading.
- Aeration to a minimum depth of 150 mm using a Verti-Drain with 17 mm diameter tines.
- The spreading of approved sand to a depth of 10-20 mm followed by drag matting.
- The application of a pre-plant fertiliser followed by seeding.
- An intensive grow-in, including additional ryegrass overseeding.
Ryegrass was the chosen grass species to replace the native kikuyu because of its suitability for football, adaptation to cool climatic conditions, its excellent durability and high aesthetic appeal.
The successful transition from warm to cool season grass species was not an easy process and one that required careful thought, keen observations, practical skill and timing. It was crucial to move quickly from the native species to the desired ryegrass whilst not compromising pitch management objectives or the playing quality of those pitches still in use.
High-tech grow lights were used at five of the World Cup stadia where shade was a problem. These rigs assisted with germination and grass establishment and helped to deliver top quality pitches.
With more than 3,000 people involved in the project, communicating our knowledge and methodologies was key to enabling the stadia teams to deliver the pitches on time and to the required standards.
A Desso synthetic fibre reinforcement system was installed at some sites to aid stabilisation of the sand-based pitches and to produce a surface worthy of world-class football.
One of the most important roles of the STRI staff was to ensure the consistency of pitches.
STRI has developed a series of objective tests to monitor the quality of football pitches and this technology was applied to all of the World Cup stadia. The pitches were monitored regularly using equipment such as the theta probe to measure moisture, a traction meter to measure slippage, a prism gauge to measure grass height and consistency of cut, and the Clegg Impact tester to measure surface firmness values.
The results of such testing allowed for adjustments to be made to the management programme to ensure the pitches were in optimum condition for the duration of the tournament.
To produce pristine turf for football, any pest or disease that feeds on or disrupts the surface must be controlled.
The optimal control of pests and diseases includes all aspects of turfgrass management, therefore Integrated Pest & Disease Management programmes were employed at each stadium, including: water management, fertility management, optimal mowing height and mowing frequency, use of growth regulators and plant protection products.
Pests encountered at the stadia were mole crickets, black cutworms, black maize beetles and the earthworm. A combination of cultural and chemical control measures was employed to control these pests. The four main diseases encountered were Pythium, grey leaf spot, dreschlera leaf spot and microdochium patch. Cultural control measures were employed wherever possible, limiting the use of chemical solutions.
One method to overcome instability problems was to turf plug individual areas of a pitch. A hexagonal turf plugger was used to repair localised areas of damage. This method of stabilisation did not produce the prettiest looking sward but the repaired plugs stayed in place and the surface remained firm, producing a good playing surface.
As a result of great teamwork and a huge amount of effort, excellent playing surfaces were delivered to FIFA’s high standards.
Commentators and players reported that the surfaces presented had exceeded all expectations.
Consistent, world-class standards were achieved by the successful transition from the warm-season kikuyu grass to the cool-season ryegrass.
The monitoring work proved to be extremely successful. STRI’s performance testing and analysis ensured consistency across all stadia pitches and ensured optimum pitch performance was achieved.
We are proud of the legacy we have left behind in terms of the training and expertise we passed on whilst in South Africa, not to mention the legacy of the pitches.
The groundstaff now have the necessary expertise to ensure the pitches will continue to serve football at the stadia for the future.