In the world of sport, athletes strive for excellence pushing their bodies to the limits for the love of the game. One sport that captures the hearts of millions is football with stars like Lionel Messi mesmerising fans worldwide with his genius talent. A concerning trend has emerged in recent years - the increasing use of artificial grass on football pitches especially abroad. While the powers that by at clubs see it as a practical solution it is vital to address the dangers that artificial grass poses to athletes compromising their performance, well-being, and long-term health. Lionel Messi has recently expressed his concerns about playing on artificial turf and has refused to play in the MLS away games due to be held on fake grass. This is not the first time this issue has reared its head with stars such as David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic having questioned the safety of artificial turf for professionals at the elite level.
In a study by the National Library of Medicine it was reported how clubs created artificial turf pitches due to 'supposed' lower maintenance costs. Most teams approach this method to reduce the running cost of the club. During their research, they observed 1.54 injuries per game on artificial turf and a decrease of 1.49 injuries per game on natural grass. They found players having ankle injuries, achilles injuries and ankle fractures to be increasingly more on artificial grass.
1. Increased Risk of Injuries:
Artificial grass may appear harmless at first glance but it can significantly increase the risk of injuries for athletes. Unlike natural grass, artificial grass lacks the cushioning properties needed to absorb impact adequately. This deficiency can lead to more frequent and severe injuries especially in high-impact sports like football.
Studies have shown that the impact forces on artificial grass are considerably higher than on natural grass leading to an increased risk of injuries such as sprains, strains and even concussions.
2. Surface Heat:
Another perilous aspect of artificial grass is its tendency to absorb and retain heat, especially during hot weather. This can create an oven-like effect on the field making it unbearably hot for athletes. High temperatures not only result in discomfort but can also lead to heat-related illnesses including heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Athletes playing on artificial grass are more susceptible to dehydration and heat-related stress affecting their performance and endurance levels. Heat stress can also impair decision-making abilities and increase the risk of errors on the field. These tiny differences can be a huge difference in a World Cup Final!
3. Abrasive and Harsh Surface:
Artificial grass is made of synthetic materials often filled with rubber or sand infill. These materials create a rough and abrasive surface that can cause skin abrasions and burns when players slide or make contact with the ground. The constant friction between the surface and the athlete's skin can lead to painful injuries and hinder performance. Have a scroll through social media and you will see a large number of athletes with huge amounts of skin missing off their limbs.
4. Cancerous chemicals
To mimic the feel of real grass and provide cushioning many brands of artificial grass incorporate small crumbs of rubber. These rubber pellets (usually sourced from recycled car tyres) have raised concerns about potential health hazards for athletes. The presence of recycled rubber poses a potential risk as the rubber particles can cling to players' hair, skin, and clothing. This increases the likelihood of athletes inhaling, ingesting or having direct contact with the chemicals present in the rubber.
Media reports have highlighted cases of young adult football players (especially goalkeepers) being diagnosed with blood cancers leading to heightened worries about the safety of playing on these surfaces.
The use of artificial turf is a growing concern not only because of it's environmental impact ending up in landfill but also for the health of the players that play on it.