The very first international football tournament to be played entirely on football turf took place in Peru in September/October 2005. The biennial FIFA U-17 World Championship was hosted at five different venues with four of the stadia converting their old grass pitches to football turf and the fifth being installed in a completely new stadium.
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The first major tournament test for football turf came in 2003 when the Toolo stadium in Helsinki, one of the four venues for the FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland was laid with a new artificial pitch. The long, dark winters in Finland can submit a football pitch to temperatures of -16 degrees Celsius and with a small amount of sun reaching the turf, the playing surface can become bare in a short space of time. However, the artificial pitch has been a great success and it is used regularly by premier league side HJK.
Of course, Peru's climate is extremely different to Finland's. In Chiclayo, Piura, Trujillo and Lima the climate is classed as being 'desert, while Iquitos (the fifth venue) lies in the Amazonian jungle where temperatures and humidity are high and the rainfall is over three metres a year.
Football turf is also the perfect answer for very dry climates where watering a pitch can be prohibitively expensive. For example, Peru's western seaboard, where most of the country's biggest cities are situated, gets so little rain that water has to be piped in at huge expense.
Iquitos, however, has to contend with 300 centimeters of rainfall a year, but one of the many advantages of artificial turf is that it drains extremely well, even in a thunderstorm. Unlike natural grass fields, pools of water do not form on the surface and tufts cannot be torn out of the wet turf by tackles and slides from players.
Therefore, when Peru's Local Organising Committee for the tournament met to discuss venues, an idea was mooted to convert to artificial turf. FIFA readily agreed provided that FIFA Quality Concept standards were met.
The Peruvian Local Organising Committee hosted the Copa America in 2004 and had to bear the enormous costs of watering and maintaining the pitches at the venues, estimated at $8,000 per month per stadium.
"They did the maths," explained Inaki Alvaro, Event Director for the FIFA U-17 World Championship and also FIFA's Head of Youth and Development Events. "A football turf field should last ten to 12 years and they worked out that it would only take three years to get a payback between the cost of installing new pitches, including maintenance, and the upkeep of the grass fields."
Sixteen teams from all over the world took part in the FIFA U-17 World Championship. All were quite comfortable on the artificial turf, even if they had not played on it before, like the Peruvians. Central defender, Christian Branches, said: "I had no problems getting accustomed to the surface. The fields were quite hard but they run well and the sliding properties are the same as on grass."