International Rugby
IRB launch artificial pitch initiative
ESPNscrum Staff
January 28, 2011
South Korea's Choi Si-won stretches the Hong Kong defence, Hong Kong v South Korea, Asian Five Nations, Hong Kong, China, April 24, 2010
South Korea's Choi Si-won stretches the Hong Kong defence during an international staged on artificial turf last year © Getty Images

The prospect of top flight rugby being regularly staged on an artificial pitch has moved a step closer with the launch of a new International Rugby Board initiative.

The One Turf programme will redefine the use of artificial turf as a playing surface with the aim of boosting global participation in the sport especially in areas where it is hard to grow and maintain natural pitches. The IRB plan to "regulate and standardise the development, performance and maintenance of artificial turf worldwide" whilst ensuring that the highest possible player welfare and performance standards are achieved.

The programme now opens the way for Unions and clubs to install a surface produced to a global specification that satisfies all IRB Regulatory aspects and can be used for competition, training and community activity in a rugby and multi-sport environment.

The Rugby Football Union have taken a proactive role in the development of artifical pitches and English side Newcastle broke new ground with an artificial training pitch in 2007. More recently their Premiership rivals Saracens announced plans to install a plastic pitch as part of their planned re-location to the Barnet Copthall Stadium. Hong Kong have also staged internationals on artificial turf and an IRB Council ruling last year removed a restrictive clause which enabled players to decline playing on such surfaces.

IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said the move will help underpin the governing body's efforts to develop the game around the world. "The One Turf programme is a significant step forward for our sport with far reaching benefits. The IRB's vision is to grow the Game in developed and emerging Rugby markets around the world over the next 10 years and we have a tremendous opportunity to do so with three Rugby World Cups and two Olympic Games within the period. There is little doubt that this programme will boost participation while having distinct benefits for other sports.

"The One Turf programme will deliver a unified framework for standards of production, installation and maintenance of artificial turf that will pave the way for Rugby matches from the community level up to the Test arena to be played on the surface, which has numerous benefits in countries where there are challenges with growing conditions or access to facilities is difficult."

The launch comes after an exhaustive IRB review of artificial turf usage and performance around the world. Prior to the comprehensive programme being launched there was no global regulation of artificial turf production and maintenance, while teams or individual players could decline to play on the surface under IRB Regulations.

In order to ensure the highest possible player welfare, performance and durability standards, extensive development and testing was undertaken by IRB Accredited Test Institutes under a number of climatic conditions ensuring that the surface has no adverse player welfare implications. This was supplemented by extensive injury surveillance studies which determined that there is no additional risk of injury.

A Memorandum of Understanding has also been signed with FIFA, who initiated the Quality Turf Concept, ensuring that all research and development is beneficial to both Rugby and Football. The Rugby Football Union in England has worked very closely with the Football Association and the Football Foundation in driving forward and delivering dual purpose installations.

With the programme in place the process of appointing IRB Preferred Turf Producers is underway and leading artificial turf expert Limonta International has become the first IRB Preferred Turf Producer. Based in Italy, Limonta International has a long history and proven track record in providing artificial sports surfaces successfully across the world. The IRB will continue to work with other organisations in order to appoint further Preferred Turf Producers.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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