By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the 2014 World Cup looming and host cities beginning to declare their stadiums fit for purpose, The Rio Times gained an exclusive insight into the consultancy firm called in to advise on the best way to maintain the pitches that will be center stage at football’s most illustrious event.
The Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI), which liaised with FIFA on the pitches for the 2010 World Cup and UEFA for last year’s European Championships, will be on hand throughout the Confederations and World Cups.
Andy Cole, STRI’s Operations Director, was in Brazil last week for meetings with FIFA and was good enough to give The Rio Times a unique look at what goes into preparing a playing suitable for a World Cup.
“What FIFA are looking for is uniform consistency. We need to tailor the soil so it is of an international standard,” Cole said.
Cole defined the role STRI will play prior to and during the World Cup. “We’ve been called in as consultants, so the first thing we need to do is make our assessment,” he said.
“Afterwards, we hand the data we’ve collected to FIFA, who then pass it onto the various cities, and it finally reaches the contractors. But we aren’t here to tell people what to do; our only role is to advise.”
A huge amount of care and attention are needed when preparing the ground that will host such a gargantuan contest. And according to Cole, there are five key elements needed for perfect grass growth. “Air, to give the grass sufficient oxygen, nutrition, water, warmth and light.”
One of the major challenges of holding the World Cup in Brazil is the sheer size of the country. A piece of land larger than Western Europe, you will find a radically differing climate in the north and south.
Two types of grass can be used for pitch laying; warm weather grass and cool weather grass. In Brazil’s northern climates – found in the host cities of Salvador, Recife, Natal, Fortaleza and Manaus warm weather turf will need to be used, which needs more light and water to grow.
Cole has been in the business of turf management some 27 years and says one of the best things about the job is always learning something new.
“Sport has changed over the years. Pitches need to be of an international standard. Groundsmen are no longer looked upon as a glorified grass cutter,” he said.
It is indeed the groundsmen who have the last word on whatever modifications need to be made to the playing surface. In April a training program will be held, bringing all the twelve stadium representatives together for the first time.
“It is really at that stage [the meeting] that everyone unites. It sinks in for the first time that you are in fact one big team rather than twelve separate units. We are all part of the World Cup family,” Cole said.