Hockey World Cup: Story behind environment-friendly pitches in Odisha

Poligras, a leading brand that laid the pitches at the two venues, threw some light on the modern technology, which enabled less use of water on the turfs.

FILE PHOTO: Aerial shot of the pitch at the newly constructed Birsa Munda Stadium in Rourkela prior to the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup.

FILE PHOTO: Aerial shot of the pitch at the newly constructed Birsa Munda Stadium in Rourkela prior to the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup. | Photo Credit: BISWARANJAN ROUT

Poligras, a leading brand that laid the pitches at the two venues, threw some light on the modern technology, which enabled less use of water on the turfs.

The use of playing surfaces produced by combining innovative technology and renewable raw materials in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way is one of the positives of the Hockey World Cup 2023 in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela.

Poligras, a leading brand that laid the pitches at the two venues, threw some light on the modern technology, which enabled less use of water on the turfs.

In an interaction with Sportstar through email, Shaun Goudie, the general manager of Sportsgroup Asia region, spoke about various challenges of laying the turf for the 2023 World Cup in Odisha and the developments for future big-ticket events.

Q: We don’t see the frequent use of huge water sprayers during a hockey match anymore. I understand the hockey pitches at the Hockey World Cup represent the latest innovations. Could you explain the innovations and how has technology changed to make pitches which consume less water and be more environmentally friendly? How much less water is used now?

A: Large type irrigators are still present on today’s elite hockey fields. It’s just that the fields require less water. This is largely driven by the technology used in turf manufacturing and pitch design all of which contributes to the reduction in water usage. Significant factors in the synthetic yarn extrusion such as Polymer, texturization, yarn profile and patented intellectual property such as Coolplus, Shark Skin Technology, Precitex texturization all contribute to lower yarn temperatures without (being) detrimental to performance of the yarn and turf system. Elastic layers (shock pads) and field design also play a major role in ensuring that what(ever amount of) water is applied to the field is utilised for the longest possible time. Poligras today uses some 60-70 per cent less water that we used in the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Q: The use of bio-based polythene made from sugarcane sounds interesting. Can you elaborate how a natural product is turned into polythene and what are its advantages?

A: Green Technology Yarns are made in a very similar way that you would find Hydrocarbon products manufactured from extracted oil, except they are made from Renewable resources such as sugarcane. Basically, the process of making a Green Technology Yarn is to harvest the sugarcane and ferment it. From this process, you obtain ethanol. From the ethanol product, you can then convert this into a “green” ethylene and from “green” ethylene we can produce a “green” polyethylene which is the main fibre for the production of our GT Hockey systems. This is ground-breaking technology and coupled with our other green initiatives, it provides Sportgroup and Poligras with carbon neutral hockey turfs, a world leader in its field.

Q: What is the process for upkeep and maintenance of the pitches?

A: The Hockey Turf fibres are manufactured from very High Quality Polyethylene which is one of the lightest, most durable man-made textiles available on planet earth. Technically a plastic fibre, it provides outstanding qualities for many years when manufactured into a synthetic sports surface which requires minimal maintenance. Typical maintenance regimes include keeping the fibre brushed and cleaned with specialist brushing and vacuum type machines on a monthly basis or sooner depending on the usage. General housekeeping rules apply most of the time such as, foot washes/brushes at entry and exit points and rubbish bins conveniently located for player rubbish.

Q: How has the pitches made with new technology helps in terms of players’ performances?

A: Players at the very elite end of the spectrum require consistency above all else. Human improvement largely comes from continual practice of a repetitive function and when surfaces can consistently deliver the same playing parameters. This helps the players’ overall performance. A synthetic surface like Poligras is made to exacting standards under a very stringent quality control system, ensuring that all functions of that surface contribute to player performance. Poligras, having led the development in hockey surfacing for over 25 years, works very closely with a number of elite players to develop systems that enhance the player and spectator experiences.

Q: Were there any challenges faced during the installation of these pitches? Are the pitches used in Bhubaneswar and Rourkela identical? Or are there any differences?

A: Yes, all the pitches used in the 2023 men’s World Cup in Rourkela and Bhubaneshwar are Poligras Platinum GT surfaces. The surfacing of the main stadium field at Kalinga Stadium was relatively straight forward as we had done this field back in 2017 for the 2018 World Cup. The training venue was a little bit more problematic as over recent years it had experienced some settlement in a couple of locations. This can be for a number of reasons. However, the decision was made to completely reconstruct this field which included large earthworks and pavement construction during what was a very hot period of the year.

Of course, Rourkela was the main event and the construction of the training facility and main stadium on such a large scale and very tight timelines created a lot of pressure on all the contractors on site. Installing turfs in the middle on a very large build program whilst major structural building is still going on is never an ideal situation. With searing temperatures and then heavy monsoonal rains is always a big challenge, you need to find warm weather to install the pitches, so with all other factors included such as working with the main contractor and sub trades requires extremely good communication and little bit of luck.

Q: Are these new pitches cost effective or costlier than the previous version of astro-turf?

A: The construction of any sports field whether it is a natural turf field or a synthetic is a large capital investment and in the case of hockey fields is also a complex civil engineering project. The Covid pandemic over the last few years has put a lot of pressure on supply lines and shipping globally. Due to the specific nature of the materials we use, they are typically produced in chemical factories and because of Covid, we saw a number of shutdowns around the world which caused prices to increase. Although prices are now stabilizing, there has been a significant increase in raw materials and unfortunately this has caused prices to rise to the end consumer.

Q7. How are the pitches for Paris 2024 going to be carbon zero? And what is the new thing we can expect in the pitch to be used during the 2026 World Cup? 

A: The International Hockey Federation (FIH) has a vision to completely phase out the usage of water in hockey fields. Poligras is working very closely with all the stakeholders in the hockey world to develop the next generation pitches that will be waterless. The development of this technology is time consuming, expensive and is ongoing. The Paris 2024 Olympic pitches will feature a newly developed yarn that will further reduce water and provide lower friction characteristics enabling very low water requirements. We sincerely hope that by the time the 2026 World Cups are held we will be in a position to offer the first Category 1 waterless turfs.

Q: Could you give a brief idea about how the synthetic hockey turf has changed over the years since its introduction in the 1976 Olympics? How has it impacted the game?

A: Probably the biggest change in turfs is in the development of the yarn technology. There has been a transition from nylon fibres which needed a lot of water and were very abrasive when dry, to polypropylene and currently to polyethylene which is a softer more durable yarn and requires much less water. Texturisation of the fibre is also important to ensure that ball roll performance provides speed and accuracy when performing hockey manoeuvres.

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