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21 June 2007 PR 07/85

Investigating the science behind sports surfaces

The impact of artificial sports surfaces on player comfort, safety and performance is being investigated by Loughborough University based research network, SportSURF.

Increasingly sports such as football, hockey and rugby are played on artificial sport surfaces. These synthetic surfaces offer many benefits over traditional grass, particularly for increased hours of availability. However there are many questions regarding the current knowledge and understanding of these sports surfaces and their impact on the people who use them.

SportSURF aims to answer some of these questions by bringing together experts in this area of research from across the world. The network was established in 2005 by Dr Paul Fleming, based in the University’s Department of Civil and Building Engineering, along with colleagues from other academic institutions and SAPCA (the Sport and Play Constructor Association). Today it has more than 180 members from many different backgrounds and areas of research, including biomechanics, engineering and medicine.

Talking about the role of SportSURF, Dr Fleming said: “There are thousands of sportsmen and women across the UK who regularly use artificial surfaces, but we know very little about the impact these surfaces have on player performance and injury risk. There is also very little information on what the best artificial sports surfaces to use are, how best to maintain them and how long they can be safely used for before replacement is necessary.

“Artificial surface installation requires a large initial capital outlay – anything up to £500,000 – and effective equipment and skilled personnel to maintain it in an appropriate condition for as long as possible. With such high costs sports facility managers want to be sure they are making the right choice.”

Loughborough University has extensive academic expertise and facilities that enable artificial surfaces to be accurately tested. This includes a specialist temperature and humidity controlled laboratory.

Dr Fleming added: “The work carried out through SportSURF will benefit many people, from sports enthusiasts to elite level athletes. It will also help British companies to compete in the global markets, and potentially lead to the design of better surfaces with regard to comfort, safety and performance.”

SportSURF runs a series of one-day seminars and workshops to address questions about sport surface science and player and equipment surface interactions. The network is also planning to hold its inaugural conference in September at the Loughborough University campus. The two-day event will include around 15 research papers and presentations, as well as invited speakers from industry on topics including carpet technology, performance testing and maintenance. Representatives from key sports governing bodies, such as the RFU and the FA, will also be attending.

In addition, there will be academic keynote speakers on each day of the conference. Martyn Shorten of Biomechanica, USA, will give a talk on ‘Sport surfaces and injury: the missing links’, and Colin Walker of Strathclyde University, Glasgow, will present his work on ‘Computational modelling of the athlete/pitch interface’.

“The main aim of the conference is to provide really strong interaction between industry and academia,” explains Dr Fleming. “We are also expecting other stakeholders to attend, such as representatives from local authorities and schools who own or operate facilities, sports enthusiasts and funders/policy makers.

“It is hoped this new sport surfaces conference, which is the only one of its kind in Europe, if not the world, will become a biennial event and one that will grow in size and status.”

For further information about SportSURF visit http://www.sportsurf.org


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Notes for editors

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research-intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

In the 2006 National Student Survey, the University gained a top five place, with nine out of Loughborough’s 23 departments topping their subject tables. Loughborough was also placed 6th in the 2007 Times Good University Guide and was named winner of the 2006 THES award for the UK’s Best Student Experience. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded five Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other university.

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