The Sevco Blame game… but does Sally have a point?

It is another day but yet again the papers carry stories with TSF (The Sevco Franchise) blaming the rest of Scottish Football for the mess they find themselves in.

This time, it is Sally McCoist blaming Annan for the audacity to have a 3g, state of the art, FIFA approved artificial pitch that he claims caused the injury to David Templeton, which will see the winger ruled out for around two months.

Quoted in the Scotsman, Sally had this to say:

“Our doctor did say the pitch definitely played a part in it, but I don’t know how much.

As those surfaces go it looked all right, but whether we should be playing on them is a different argument.”

So I thought this was time to come out of hibernation and look into the facts surrounding 3g pitches.

The Annan 3g pitch which McCoist is blaming…

As a little bit of background, for those of you who aren’t ‘grass watchers’, 3g pitch technology has been approved for use by FIFA, following extensive studies which concluded that 3g pitches showed no difference in injuries when compared to grass surfaces.  Despite the close to One million pound cost of laying the artificial turf, the surfaces bring benefits as they can be used all year round, allowing training on grass year round (unheard of 10 years ago) while allowing the surface to be rented out without risking damage to the grass surface as was the case in years past.

So, FIFA say they are safe, clubs say that they bring in more money, and are cheaper to maintain, and they also allow development of young footballers year round…  SO, why is Sally complaining…

Lets look at some of the studies that have been done on pitches:

3g pitches have been around since the 90’s, but the first injury studies were done from 2006 onwards, mainly in Scandinavian countries where playing on artificial surfaces is common due to their winter climate.

One first such study conducted by Ekstrand in 2006 found no difference in rates of injuries sustained on artificial pitches, against grass pitches.  This was followed up a year later by Fuller, an American association that studied American College football (the American variety) games played on artificial surfaces as opposed to grass games, who found roughly the same results across all genders.  Further, a Norwegian study also concluded that there was no more risk on 3g, than on grass.

However, while on the face of it, and from what FIFA will tell you, 3g is no worse than grass, all the above studies did find one thing.  That while overall there was no difference in injuries, there were clear differences in the types of injuries sustained on the different surfaces.  3g surfaces in all the above studies showed LOWER muscle related injuries, but, notably showed HIGHER instances of ankle sprains and ligament injuries.

This was backed up by a study released this year conducted by an NFL panel (yes, not real football again), which focused on serious knee and ankle injuries only.  They found that artificial grass contributed 88% more injuries than natural grass.  What type of injury did Templeton receive?  Yep, the ankle ligaments…

The report however failed to go into more depth, and the Panel chairman Dr. Hershman went as far to say:

“It does not draw any conclusions about the cause of the injuries analyzed. Our panel states in the report that additional analyses, data from future NFL seasons, and studies of injury rates on synthetic turf and natural grass surfaces, including for other athletic populations and levels of football, are needed before any conclusions can be drawn or recommendations made.”

Meanwhile, back in Scandinavia, our Norwegian friends, Bjørneboe were finalizing a study of top level Norwegian games and training on 3g surfaces.  Once again, they concluded what FIFA, and the other surveys had said, that 3g surfaces were as safe as grass.

However, they categorized the injuries in much more depth, and once again, the data concluded that Knee and Ankle strains were more likely on 3g surfaces.

The table above shows the different types of injuries sustained in the Bjorneboe study over the three year period studied.  The column on the right shows the ratio between the different types of injury.  A ratio below ‘1’ means that 3g surfaces are ‘safer’, while a ratio more than ‘1’ means that the injury is more prevalent on 3g surfaces.  As all the other studies found, sprains are more prevalent on 3g, while other injuries such as strains and fractures are significantly lower.

So, while the studies are back up what FIFA say – that 3g is as safe, if not safer, all the studies so far show that ankle and knee ligament damage is more likely on 3g.

Back to what McCoist said…

“but whether we should be playing on them is a different argument.”

For once, Sally isn’t too far off the mark.  While the press reports and FIFA would have use believe there is no difference in injury rates, it is clear from reading the different studies that more serious (judged by length of time out of the game) injuries, especially ligament injuries, can be attributed to 3g.  While for cold countries these surfaces are the way forward, more work needs to be done to eliminate this ‘side effect’.

Read more:

Bjornboe Study

Western Australia Sports and Recreation Authority

NFL panel

Welsh Football Trust