Artificial turf is a recent innovation in youth sports. But not everyone is thrilled about it. Ever since 2004, when long-pile artificial turf fields were introduced to soccer by FIFA, the number of such areas has been increasing. Simultaneously, the number of injuries among athletes also increased around the same time. It has led many sports professionals, sports scientists and other advocates to question the safety of turf fields, and ask: does turf cause long-term injuries in athletes?
What Do Scientists Have to Say?
The debate over the safety of artificial turf has motivated scientists to examine the question. According to research conducted on soccer players, there is a clear correlation between artificial turf and injuries among players. In most cases, the casualties included cuts to hands, arms and torsos, ankle sprains and strains of leg muscles.
In a separate study conducted on female soccer players, sports scientists confirmed the results and found that serious injuries were sustained more frequently on artificial turf than natural grass. The most common injuries were ankle sprains, which also occurred much more on artificial grass. Additionally, as the quality of the turf declined, it also caused the number of injuries to increase.
It’s important to remember that in both papers, researchers emphasized that players sustain injury either due to physical contact with other players (tackles) or due to the surface of the field.
What Do Female Athletes Have to Say?
In an interview ahead of the 2015 Women’s Wolrd Cup, Alex Morgan (US national team member) and 40-plus other international soccer stars voiced their concerns. She revealed her belief that there is a higher risk of sustaining injuries on turf fields and that recovery takes longer.
Additionally, Alex also said that she had trouble during and after performing on artificial turf fields. She emphasized that the turf made her feel more aches, pains, and sores than grass. That’s one of the reasons the female soccer players filed a lawsuit against FIFA and questioned the decision of the men’s World Cup not allowing artificial turf in Brazil.
What Do Male Athletes Have to Say?
Another problem of artificial turf is crumb rubber. It is a material consisting of black beads spread across the field to absorb moisture and make the surface less slippery.
Despite its benefits, crumb rubber is made from scrapped rubber tires which contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals like benzene. After being diagnosed with Lymphoma, former goalkeeper Ethan Zohn found a clear parallel between cancer and goalkeepers who played soccer on artificial turf.
Although inconclusive, keepers do throw themselves on the ground most often and end up swallowing the small rubber crums. Additionally, during high moisture, the chemicals evaporate rapidly, and the people closest to the ground (goalkeepers) inhale most of the toxic fumes.
Turf can cause long-term injuries among athletes. The number of injuries that can be sustained on turf is far higher, and the mentioned prospect of cancer makes it an unsafe surface to play any sport. And once you consider how much youth athletes spend time playing on these types of fields, serious investigation and a boycott of artificial turf until conclusive results are revealed to be the right course of action.