It’s the age-old question that has become synonymous with the discussion surrounding 3G pitches. For all their benefits, there has always been concerns on the safety of artificial pitches in football and whether they are responsible for injuries.
One notable concern is the frequent long-term injuries that are perceived to be caused by the playing surface, particularly anterior-cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries that can often affect players’ seasons, and possibly even careers. A study by Natural Grass reported that 64% of the players who experienced an injury believed that was caused by the pitch. Up to 91% of them think that the type of playing surface can increase this risk.
Being a cost-effective solution to providing suitable playing surfaces across the UK, 3G pitches have quickly become commonplace in grassroots sport. Currently in England there are 639 high-quality publicly available pitches. This figure, however, is dwarfed by the 3,735 in Germany as pitches continue to be built. It is without doubt a fantastic asset to have at grassroots level, with more durable all-weather pitches being able to be played on far more frequently and with less man-hours being spent on the maintenance of the surface. Furthermore, Germany have had far more success on the international stage. Could this be why? But at the top of the game the concerns are still there. Former AC Milan, Barcelona and Manchester United star Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has sustained an ACL injury in his career before, now refuses to play on artificial surfaces:
“By playing on [artificial] turf, I risk to get damage. I don’t say I will get injured — I don’t know; I could get injured also in normal games — but the consequence is everywhere, the risk is everywhere. The risk is higher on the turf. And I tried to play on the turf in Portland, and I felt very bad.”
But are the issues more sinister? In 2016, a report by the Telegraph concluded that artificial pitches in Holland – where nearly 2,000 were built in 10 years – were being ripped up. Why? The carcinogens in the rubber crumb could be responsible for cancer. The issue was raised by former NHS Trust executive Nigel Maguire whose son Lewis had white blood cell cancer. Lewis was a young goalkeeper who played frequently on 3G pitches at Darlington and Leeds United. Nigel described the pitches as an “industrial scale experiment on the health of our children.”
Despite this the FA has repeatedly shunned any concerns surrounding the use of artificial pitches and the health of children around the UK. In a statement, they said:
The numerous scientific studies conducted by government agencies around the world, and undertaken by independent experts, have all validated the human health and environmental safety of 3G pitches and crumb rubber.
Third generation artificial turf is recognised as a durable, safe, year-round playing surface, able to withstand regular use and all kinds of weather.
It enables significant increases in sports participation, ensuring far more individuals and communities benefit from all of the associated social and health benefits of physical activity.
And it can’t be argued natural turf is not 100% safe. Take West Ham’s Andriy Yarmolenko injuring his Achilles at the weekend. He is set to miss six months following an injury off the ball, which some are attributing to the quality of the surface. No matter what surface and no matter what conditions, these injuries will happen due to the strain the sport puts on the body.
So, what are your thoughts on artificial pitches? Do you think they are safe? Do you think they should be used at both grassroots and competitive levels? Get involved with us on Twitter @ParkLife_Sport and give us your thoughts!