Big Stadium Hockey – a portable pitch technology which allows elite-level games to be played at any major venue – has been announced as the winner of the SAPCA Innovation Award for 2020. Sports surfaces specialist and SAPCA member Polytan worked with a number of partners on the project, which is set to open huge opportunities for the sport.
The innovation has been described by some as the biggest breakthrough in hockey since the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games – when hockey was first played on synthetic grass.
Since the move to synthetic pitches in 1976, the sport of hockey has evolved dramatically, with games becoming much faster, more exciting and, arguably, more popular. The change has also resulted in synthetic turf becoming an essential part of the sport.
There has, however, been a down-side to the decision. As most major football and rugby venues still have grass pitches, hockey has been forced to play even its greatest games in smaller, hockey-specific venues.
“Hockey needed to break free and Big Stadium Hockey is the vehicle that has enabled that to happen,” says Polytan managing director David McCulley.
Big Stadium Hockey’s playing surface – created in partnership with England Hockey, STRI Group and Permavoid – meets all FIH standards and can be installed, used and removed in a short space of time on top of a variety of sub-bases.
“The challenges revolved around the need to develop a system that would meet the exacting FIH certification standards – but could still be installed and removed quickly and on top of different types of existing surfaces,” McCulley adds.
“On top of this, we strived to ensure a low environmental impact while ensuring the model was economically viable for all partners and stakeholders.”
Components of the system were developed and repeatedly tested and then put through a proof of concept process to ensure the final configuration brought together the key elements of athlete welfare, pitch performance and protection of the existing surface.
The final system had to prove to the FIH that the radical thinking behind it would not have negative outcomes for the sport. This in mind, a crucial part of the process was player feedback at each stage to ensure the pitch provided a surface which supported play at the highest level.
Once all stakeholders were satisfied, the first Big Stadium Hockey pitch was installed at the home of Harlequins rugby, The Stoop. The West London venue was converted into a hockey stadium to host matches against the New Zealand Blacksticks.
“The event was a great success putting hockey on the larger stage – where it deserves to be,” McCulley says.
“The first game was such a success that it was followed by a second event at Energie Park in Dublin for an Ireland Olympic qualifier. Again, hockey attracted a larger audience with tickets selling out in minutes. There are now many other events being planned!”
The success of the two events has now resulted in the FIH to creating a new category for certified, portable pitches – called Temporary Overlay Pitch Systems (TOPS).
“In essence the unique, innovative, creative system helps hockey to move to the big stage without the need for permanent infrastructure,” McCulley adds. “It is helping to grow the game worldwide, because it has given hockey the freedom to go where it wants.”
He adds that the industry recognition, gained in the form of the SAPCA Innovation Award, is the icing on the cake for Big Stadium Hockey.
“We really appreciated SAPCA recognising the Big Stadium Hockey project with the prestigious award for Innovation,” he said.
“The award tops off what has been an exciting and at times challenging process as we worked with colleagues from across industry, pulling in a wide range of expertise to realise the original concept.
“We are looking forward to seeing where Big Stadium Hockey can go next and having the award will help raise awareness of the programme.”
Now in their fifth year, the SAPCA Awards are organised by the Sports and Play Construction Association (SAPCA) to celebrate achievements in the sports and play facility construction industry. Each year, SAPCA members are invited to submit entries to celebrate their successes; whether a new product or service, a technical innovation, a completed project, a research project, or an export success.