Pelé backs artificial turf for 2010 World Cup
By Mark Bisson
Artificial turf has come of age, Brazilian football legend Pelé told delegates at Stadia magazine's Sports Turf Summit 2004 in Berlin. The professional football game should embrace plastic surfaces for the highest level of competition, insisted Pelé, who led his national team to three World Cup victories in 1958, 1962 and 1970.
Pelé welcomed moves to see the 2010 World Cup in South Africa played on artificial-turf pitches, at the event held at Berlin's Estrel Convention Center last week.
No World Cup match has yet been played on a synthetic surface. But FIFA, world football's governing body, moved a step closer to revolutionising the game when it revised its regulations earlier this year to allow qualifying matches for all its competitions, such as the 2006 World Cup in Germany, to be played on artificial turf. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has previously gone on record as saying that the South African edition of the most prestigious event in world football could be played on synthetic surfaces due to climatic problems in producing quality natural-grass pitches.
At the Sports Turf Summit, Pelé revealed he was impressed by the new generation of synthetic surfaces after recently playing on the artificial-turf pitches at the training facilities of his former club Santos FC. He said he was in favour of FIFA opening the door for the 2010 World Cup to be played on artificial turf. "Everything's possible today. If the artificial grass is good the players will like it - they want to play on good fields," he said. "I trained on these artificial-turf pitches at Santos FC and they are perfect. Bad players used to give the excuse that the field was not good. But now they cannot do this. If they don't have good control it's their fault."
The legendary former player joined Dieter Hoeness, a DFB board member and managing director of Hertha Berlin, at the ribbon-cutting to officially open the Sports Turf Summit exhibition. The conference and exhibition was the largest dedicated event for the global natural and synthetic sports turf industry. Over 1,500 visitors attended the second Sports Turf Summit. The exhibition, with more than 70 product suppliers and consultants, presented the largest single collection of advanced natural and synthetic turf solutions ever assembled.
Pelé went on to extol the virtues of artificial turf for players. "Players don't get hurt as much as on natural grass. This is one of the great advantages," he added. "Another is that the price to maintain these pitches for the club is about half of what it is to maintain natural grass. Also, in places where they have lots of rain or climate problems, this is fantastic."
Pelé spent three years at the New York Cosmos in the 1970s where he experienced the previous generation of artificial turf. He insisted the quality of today's synthetic pitches represents a massive improvement on the AstroTurf fields he once played on at the US soccer club. "We had problems with the ball rolling too much and bouncing too high. And when you used to slide, you burnt yourself. But this new technology is like good natural turf."
In his career, the Brazilian played in 1,363 matches and scored a remarkable 1,282 goals. But he believes he would have increased his tally if he had been given the chance of plying his trade on artificial turf. "At that time the technology was not the same. If I had played then on today's artificial grass, I would have scored many more goals."