Wednesday 06 July 2022, 01:00

Building an elite stage for football’s leading performers

  • FIFA conducted a Pitch Management Workshop with the focus on Australia & New Zealand 2023

  • Sydney-based event featured pitch maintenance, quality assessment, monitoring and more

  • Local venues will receive legacy benefit through training and equipment

No matter the art form, every high level performance needs to be supplemented with the highest quality stage. There will be no greater football stage in 2023 than the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand™ and the world governing body is aiding local authorities to deliver the highest-quality surfaces when 32 nations head Down Under in 12 months’ time. This week FIFA hosted an extensive two-day Pitch Management Workshop in Sydney with 80 attendees from the six Australian stadiums to be used, as well staff from training facilities. A similar event will be held in New Zealand prior to the Women’s World Cup play-off tournament. “Fans are subconsciously looking at the pitch 95 per cent of the time that they are in the stadium,” says Alan Ferguson, FIFA Senior Pitch Management Manager, highlighting the understated role of a high-quality playing surface in the modern game. Joining Ferguson in Sydney were FIFA’s Pitch Management Manager Kris Puzio, plus a variety of other industry experts. Among the discussions were pitch maintenance, quality assessment and monitoring procedures, as well as FIFA match preparation guidelines.

Stadium Australia, Sydney overview

Delivering for fans

This week’s activities included both practical clinics and classroom time, with proceedings conducted in the shadows of Sydney’s Stadium Australia (above), venue for the 2023 Final. “One of our biggest goals is to make sure the attendees have a full understanding of the pitch requirements and why we are asking them to do what we are asking them to do,” Ferguson said. “Even the most experienced grounds staff can look at the FIFA requirements and think maybe it is a bit over the top. A lot of what we are bringing to the workshop is our previous experiences that we have seen first-hand and trying to avoid small mistakes being made again. “There is more of an awareness of pitches among fans now. The quality of the pitches is sometimes a discussion point in the media. Without good pitches, you are not going to get good quality football.”

Raising the bar

Ferguson said building upon the pitch quality which featured at the 2019 Women’s World Cup is a key focus. “France [2019] was a major step forward,” he said. “We used hybrid pitches in all the stadiums which was a first, and the feedback from players and coaches was very complementary. “The women’s game is always a bit more generous for the pitch, with the players being a bit lighter and so it is a slightly different game. We saw in France the women’s game had moved on and we are looking to kick on again in 2023. France set the bar and Australia and New Zealand have to raise the bar.”

Leaving a legacy

A key local focus for Australia & New Zealand 2023 is legacy and delivering a tangible pitch-related benefit is just part of the equation. To that end, local grounds staff will not only enjoy staff training, but they will be provided with new mowers, line marking equipment and other related hardware. For Ferguson, lifting the standard of pitches globally to a relatively standardised high-level is a long-term goal, and the FIFA team have five workshops planned for 2022 alone. “The world is not on a level playing field as far as pitches are concerned,” Ferguson said. “So what we are trying to do is get that level of pitch quality up right across the six confederations. “It is a huge topic, one that we are not going to conquer overnight, but we think these Pitch Management Workshops ahead of the [FIFA] tournaments are an introduction for each confederation and we can start to get that information exchange going. “For 2023, we have been asked to assist for the [Concacaf] Gold Cup which is a good build-up towards the 2026 World Cup. CAF have asked us as well, so I’m very confident that for 2023 and beyond we will see these events continually rolled out.”

Brisbane Stadium

Local challenges

Unlike many nations in the world, Australia’s stadiums often host four football codes, plus other events. The tournament venues, however, will have some four weeks of exclusivity prior to the first ball being kicked next year. “Typically it is very hard [to manage a multifunctional pitch],” said Mal Caddies, Grounds Manager at the 50,000+ Brisbane Stadium (above) for the past two decades. Incredibly, Caddies’ venue hosts up to 100 events a year. “Going from [rugby] union into a football game for example is really difficult, because the former is so hard on the pitch. The exclusivity period is gold for a tournament like this.” Ferguson is the first to concede to local grounds staff are dealing with a scenario not common in many countries. “Here the staff have to contend equally with rugby league, rugby union, aussie rules [Australian rules football], and in many cases football is the poor relation so the pitches are traditionally very much set up for the oval ball games. We will work with the grounds teams to make sure the pitches are prepared as best as possible. “It is a winter tournament when typically the grass doesn’t grow as strongly and we are mindful of that. If we hit our marks, then I’m confident we will have a strong group of pitches for the World Cup.”

For information on how to apply for FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ tickets click here