Russia- Germany WCQ: Plastic Pitches and Football Do Not Mix


One of the most successful football playing nations in the world, Germany is facing the possibility of not participating in World Cup 2010. Much like the home of Football, England who shockingly missed out on Euro 2008, the decisive blow for Germany could be delivered on a rubber pitch in Moscow.

My former co-host of the American Soccer Show on CSRN, Dave Denholm repeatedly said in reference to the turf at BMO Field, “Toronto is not Antarctica.” While some Canadian listeners objected, citing the harsh climate, ultimately football won out and grass will be installed in the stadium next year.

Moscow, is not Antarctica- in fact it is not even close. While both Napoleon and Hitler could attest to the harshness of the Russian winter, it is also very true that grass does grow in Russia, and harsher climates do have stadiums with natural pitches.

In 1960, American pop singer Bobby Vee sang a famous song, “Rubber Ball,” whose lyrics included “like a rubber ball I keep bouncing back to you.” That song is a consistent reminder of the outrageous nature of playing football on a plastic surface. When played on rubber as I call artificial turf, the ball takes an unnatural bounce and players cannot move correctly on or off the ball, leading to freakish results and potential serious injuries.

Ultimately the decision by FIFA to allow artificial pitches in World Cup Qualifying has given an unfair, and I believe unsporting advantage to nations choosing to install artificial pitches. While the Russian climate is harsh, no doubt, Russia’s Federation isn’t exactly hard up for money and Moscow is further south than Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki all of which have used grass pitches during this round of World Cup qualifying.

FIFA’s allowance of turf during the later stages of the 2006 World Cup qualifying cycle, permitted Costa Rica to install a rubber pitch at Estadio Saprissa before a critical qualifier against the United States. The Ticos victory essentially clinched a World Cup spot for the Central American nation.

In the 2005 and 2007 U-20 World Cups, complaints about the use of plastic pitches were a common topic among players and managers. The complains were so loud in Peru, who hosted the 2005 tournament, that all of the rubber pitches were torn out and replaced by natural grass- the same surface the very stadiums in the nation had before FIFA encouraged the Peruvian FA to install turf.

During the Euro 2008 qualifying, England a nation with zero competitive plastic pitches despite having a maritime climate that would lend itself to turf if wanted was forced to play against Russia on the junk.

England is the home of football, and while some clubs, like Queens Park Rangers experimented with artificial surfaces in the 1980s, plastic was found to be unnatural and an unfair playing surface for the guardians of the sport in England.

Let’s take a close look at England’s climate. The myth is that it always rains in London, as someone who has spent more time in London than any major American city, other than the two large places I have lived (Metro Miami and Washington DC) I can attest that it rains a great deal, but even less than it does throughout most of England.

While it is true that grass grows well in rain, it is also true properly maintaining a natural pitch in consistently wet conditions is difficult. We’ve seen the wettest areas of the United States filled with sports stadiums that feature turf, with the excuse of grounds keeping and maintenance always given.

Were the English less conscious of guarding the institutions of fair play in football they may have allowed their clubs the opportunity to take the path of least resistance and financial prudence and installed turf. But the English have not allowed that to happen, nor have the Germans in their league.

While the climate in Russia is no doubt harsh, why cannot FIFA mandate that if the opposition country wants to play in grass, that they be given the option to do so? Why must the Russian FA be indulged in their desire to qualify its national team for major tournaments by resorting to an unfair and unsporting advantage?