A view of the playing surface at Croke Park. Evan Treacy/INPHO
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Croke Park groundsman at Qatar World Cup on pitch fact-finding mission

The maintenance of surfaces at the World Cup has faced several unprecedented challenges.

THE PITCH MANAGER of Croke Park is among the groundsmen from sports stadiums across the world who have flown to Qatar to see what might be learned from the maintenance of pitches at the 2022 World Cup. 

Stuart Wilson is among the groundsmen observing the maintenance of pitches at the World Cup to see what techniques and learnings could be applied to Croke Park in the future, if any. 

The playing surfaces at this World Cup are maintained in an environment never before seen at a major tournament, with the organisers tasked with growing and preserving the grass faced with several unprecedented challenges. 

The surfaces have broadly held up well thus far, although England raised concerns with Fifa regarding the condition of the playing surface of the Al Bayt Stadium prior to yesterday’s 3-0 win against Senegal. The same venue will host their quarter-final against France. 

The most obvious problem facing pitches in Qatar is the sheer amount of football played upon them. Where there were 12 different stadiums used for games at the 2018 and 2014 World Cups, there are just eight in operation in Qatar. This has led to much more wear and tear on surfaces: Saturday’s last-16 ties at the Khalifa International and Ahmad Bin Ali stadiums were the seventh games staged at those venues in seven days. 

Air conditioning also poses a challenge. The pitches at this World Cup are cooled by air filtered through large, pitch-side nozzles, with the stadiums designed as as to limit the cool air escaping through open roofs. This cooling creates a different climate for growing grass inside the stadium than without. 

Given the country’s lack of rainfall, Qatar takes most of its water from the sea, removing the salt from it in an energy-intensive process known as desalination. This process has risks for the maintenance of football pitches, as removing the salt from the water may leave residual minerals that are harmful to the playing surface.

The grass at all eight World Cup stadiums was provided by an American company, and was flown to Qatar in climate-controlled aircraft. Each pitch received 50,000 litres of water each day during the summer, which has been reduced to approximately 10,000 litres of water during the winter. 

Tournament organisers have prepared for any major issues by setting up a farm outside of Doha, where they have grown 40 football pitches worth of grass that can be delivered and laid at stadiums overnight. Croke Park have invested in a similar grass farm of its own in Naul, in North Dublin. 

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