Hi-tech turf allows talent to surface

Hi-tech turf allows talent to surface
Workers on the new Singapore National Stadium pitch, which is working on blending natural grass with artificial ones.

When midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo strikes a ball as only he can at the new National Stadium in August, it will feel like he never left Italy.

Just like in San Siro and other famous football grounds like Old Trafford and Santiago Bernabeu, the multi-purpose pitch at Kallang will have the Desso GrassMaster system - the first competitive venue in Asia to do so.

The hybrid surface, increasingly prevalent at top sporting arenas, is unique for its artificial fibres. These are injected 18cm into the soil - at 2cm intervals - to intertwine with natural grass as it grows. Some 114 million fibres will cover about three per cent of the field.

The €500,000 (S$860,000) system, designers claim, anchors the pitch and creates a solid, even structure with sufficient drainage to withstand Singapore's torrential rain and make it safer for players by reducing the chance of injuries and falls.

"Sponsors will love us as there won't be many dirty shirts on the players," said Greg Gillin, senior director (stadia) at the Singapore Sports Hub, half in jest.

"There won't be puddles or major divots either, ensuring that players have the perfect setting to showcase their talents."

Entertainment value gets a boost even as to the naked eye the pitch looks like a typical grass field. Studies by Desso show that, for each game on average, 1.5 more football goals and five more rugby points are scored on its surface compared to normal grass or artificial turf.

Over 20 types of grass were tested in Singapore during a 15-month process to determine suitability to the National Stadium's "micro-climate".

Besides high humidity, the high-sided, closed-roof structure limits sunlight and ventilation, leading to the final selection by Sports Hub officials of rye and blue grass seeds.

"Rye grass grows quickly while blue grass is easily manageable and has an attractive look," said Alexander Collot d'Escury, chief executive of Desso, which has installed 600 such pitches across the world.

"From day one, we want to ensure that the National Stadium pitch is globally accepted as elite and does not compromise players' safety."

While artificial turf - such as at Jalan Besar Stadium - takes a few weeks to be reoriented for different sports, a Desso surface typically needs just three days to grow from football (21mm grass height) to rugby (35mm) use.

No wonder officials have targeted hosting more than 100 football, rugby, cricket, athletics and entertainment events each year at the 55,000-seat facility.

For the past fortnight, two computer-controlled "stitching" machines - used recently at Sao Paulo's Corinthians Stadium which will host the opening World Cup match between hosts Brazil and Croatia on June 12 - have injected the fibres across the surface.

The Kallang pitch is expected to be in playing condition by the first week of next month, well in time for the opening rugby World Club 10s tournament on June 21 and 22.

Singapore Rugby Union president Low Teo Ping said: "I've been following the progress of the pitch to date, and it's certainly looking very good.

"The World Club 10s will be the first real test event as the Desso surface promises a high standard of play for rugby and other sports." Football will then take centre stage with a Singapore-Malaysia clash on Aug 8, followed by a friendly between Italian Serie A champions Juventus and a Singapore Selection on Aug 16.


This article was first published on May 22, 2014.
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