The controversy that has been revolving around the use of artificial turf in the 2015 Women’s World Cup stems largely from concern over player safety on the turf surface. Opponents of the artificial turf surface cite an increased exposure to a range of injuries. In comparison to the traditional grass surface, players perceive an increased likelihood of ligament tears and concussions in addition to aches, pains and turf abrasions. While much opposition is present among players, it is thought that the negative perception of artificial turf is derived from “adverse experiences of earlier generations of artificial turf pitches” (Ekstrand 824). Today FIFA mandates that the approved 3rd generation turf is a suitable alternative, concluding from their research that “there is no significant difference in the overall incidence, severity, nature or cause of match or training injuries sustained” between the two types of pitches (FIFA QnA). Studies on the correlation between artificial turf and injury are limited and opinions between players and FIFA officials differ. This page will take a close look at some of the main studies done over the years and present multiple opinions on the matter.
What Do the Players Say?
Although officials say the research doesn’t prove more injury likelihood and the use of artificial turf is widespread throughout all sports today, soccer players’ perceptions and views towards playing on this surface remain unchanged. Players feel that the turf surface is unforgiving, increasing the risk of concussions when they hit the ground and adding to the wear and tear on their bodies. Abby Wambach, the FIFA player of the year in 2012, helped lead the petition against the use of the turf fields. She felt strongly on the matter, saying, “It wrecks your body and changes the way the game is played” (USA TODay). Sydney Leroux, who plays professional for the Seattle Reign, said in 2013 that her back is the worst it has ever felt because it felt like she was “running on concrete every day” (Foudy).
U.S. National team forward Carli Lloyd echoed a similar sentiment in a series of tweets back in 2013.
Alex Morgan, a prominent U.S. national team player, spoke of a teammates’ Anterior Crucial Ligament (ACL) injury and felt that it was caused because “the turf didn’t give like natural grass would have” (Litman). Not only are players concerned about major ligament tears and concussions, but they also speak to the increased stress on the body. Morgan feels that recovery time is an issue as well: “The achiness, taking longer to recover than on natural grass, the tendons and ligaments are, for me at least, I feel more sore after turf (Litman).
In a USA Today article, Dr. Michael Freitas, associate professor of clinical orthopedics and team doctor for the Western New York Flash, remarks that it hasn’t truly been proven which field surface is better. However, Freitas notes that all turf fields aren’t created equally, which would affects surface consistency. Reinforcing Alex Morgan’s point upon recovery time, Freitas mentions that artificial surfaces can be “harder, less cushioning, and they may get more aches and pains” (Litman). He also felt there was truth to her remarks regarding ACL tears: “When your foot hits the grass and you twist, your foot is going to come out of contact with the ground easier than it would on an artificial surface… So that rotation is then taken up in your ligament, which can rupture, as opposed to your foot breaking contact with the grass, which allows that force to be dissipated” (Litman).
Turf abrasions are a major cause for concern as well. Slide tackling is a common maneuver that brings about many turf burns for players. Not only do these turf abrasions affect style of play, which you can read more about here, they also cause much discomfort. U.S forward Sydney Leroux remarked in an interview with ESPN that the stinging pain has kept her from showering for multiple days (Foudy). She remarked that she hoped players could figure out a way to slide tackle without “chewing up [their] bodies” (Foudy). Leroux posted a picture to her Twitter account after playing one of her matches.
Lastly, before we dive into the studies about injuries and turf, let’s take a quick look at an 18 month study commissioned by FIFA in hopes of determining player perception of football playing surfaces. The study took the responses of 1,129 players from 44 countries (111 female/1,018 male).
It is telling to see that almost 80% of respondents agree or strongly agree that all games should be played on natural grass. The study also finds that players perceive the injury risk to be higher on football turf pitches than on grass (Fifa 5).
PhD Michael Meyers recently completed a 5 year prospective study of women’s soccer injuries at the collegiate level between field turf and natural grass surfaces. While noting that the findings of this study may be generalizable to only collegiate competition and this specific artificial surface, Meyers concludes that FieldTurf is a practical alternative. This study analyzed 355 games on FieldTurf versus 442 on natural grass and found 39.2% of injuries to be on FieldTurf versus 60.8% on natural grass. It is interesting to note that Meyers found a lower total injury incidence rate and lower rate of substantial injuries on FieldTurf.
In a Q&A with FIFA, the organization addressed the issues of safety. FIFA has stated that safety of the players is the highest priority and in turn have conducted numerous studies. From their analysis, they have concluded that “there is no significant difference in the overall incidence, severity, nature or cause of match or training injuries sustained” between the two types of pitches (FIFA QnA).
In addition, in November of 2014, Fifa.com interviewed Jan Ekstrand. Ekstrand is a Professor in Sports Medicine and was team doctor of the Swedish national team in the eighties and nineties. Today, he is currently vice-chairman of the UEFA Medical Committee. As director of the Football Research Group in Sweden, Ekstrand’s group has peformed research on artificial turf starting over 10 years ago. Fifa.com posted the interview, in which Ekstrand states that the studies “are all entirely consistent: the total risk of injury is the same on football turf as it is on natural grass” (fifa.com). The study was focused in Scandinavia, but also in the Netherlands and Switzerland. This findings rely upon the condition that the turf is FIFA-certified (Read more here). One point that is interesting to note however is that the studies “only focused on injuries that caused absence from either training or matches” (fifa.com). Ekstrand comments that other aches and pains that might have been experienced and reported, such as sore muscle or back pains, were not included in these studies.
This study examined 15 male and 5 female elite soccer teams which played on 3rd generation artificial turf. Turf abrasion incidence was examined in the study and the study found that only 22 skin abrasions were reported (Ekstrand 830). The researchers concluded that burns and friction might not be a problem on third generation turf, but they do cite the fact that only time-loss injuries were recorded. Since this study only takes a look at players who missed time due to injury, we cannot conclude that there is no difference between skin abrasions on artificial turf vs. grass. More often than not, a turf burn is an injury that players will play through. It is a painful inconvenience however and is certainly something to consider when insisting that artificial turf is an alternative.
Although many differing opinions over the health and safety concerns of artificial turf exist, the one common thread throughout is that more research is necessary. More studies need to be conducted upon the safety of the artificial turf surface, regardless of the improvements that have been made since the first turf surface was introduced. The players, whom safety is at risk, do not feel comfortable with this surface. They are outspoken about their disapproval, and the risks, whether real, or perceived, have caused so much concern that the use of the artificial turf at the highest stage of the sport should be held off until extensive research is done. At this point it is likely too late to change the surface, but it is utterly important that player safety is of the highest importance, especially when FIFA has made that claim. Rather than the studies displaying inconclusive evidence over the safety of artificial turf, the studies need to prove with high statistical significance that artificial turf is truly a safe alternative. Some of the studies that were examined here were commissioned by FIFA, so there may be some bias that comes into play. Soccer is a physical game, with ACL tears, turf abrasions and concussions occurring regardless of surface. FIFA just needs to make sure that the artificial surfaces do not increase these injuries.
How to cite this page: “Injuries” Written by Deemer Class (2015), World Cup 2015 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/world-cup-guides/world-cup-2015-guide/all-about-that-turf/turf-vs-grass/ (accessed on (date)).
“Ekstrand: The Total Risk of Injury Is the Same on Football Turf as It Is on Natural Grass.” FIFA.com. N.p., 07 Nov. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. <http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/news/y=2014/m=11/news=ekstrand-the-total-risk-of-injury-is-the-same-on-football-turf-as-it-i-2472281.html>.
Ekstrand, J., Hägglund, M., & Fuller, C. W. (2011). Comparison of injuries sustained on artificial turf and grass by male and female elite football players. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 21(6), 824-832.
Foudy, Julie. “SYDNEY LEROUX: WHY TURF IS TERRIBLE FOR SOCCER PLAYERS.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 13 Nov. 2014. Web. 2o Apr. 2015. <http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/11868149/sydney-leroux-explains-why-turf-terrible-soccer-players>.
Fuller, Colin W., et al. (2007). “Comparison of the incidence, nature and cause of injuries sustained on grass and new generation artificial turf by male and female football players. Part 1: match injuries.” British Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(1), 20-26.
Litman, Laken. “Alex Morgan on Why Artificial Turf Is Tough for Players.” USA Today. Gannett, 15 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/soccer/2014/10/15/alex-morgan-us-women-artificial-turf-world-cup/17295011/>.
Meyers, M. C. (2013). Incidence, mechanisms, and severity of match-related collegiate Women’s soccer injuries on FieldTurf and natural grass surfaces: A 5-year prospective study. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(10), 2409-2420. doi:10.1177/0363546513498994
Whiteside, Kelly. “U.S. Soccer Star Says World Cup on Turf Will Hurt Game.”USA Today. Gannett, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 24 Apr. 2015. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/soccer/2013/03/27/abby-wambach-not-happy-world-cup-turf/2026421/>.