Growing Concerns About Maracana Pitch for Rio Olympics

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(WFI) Concerns have been voiced about the state of the Maracana pitch for the Olympic football tournaments. INSIDER's Gerard Farek reports from Rio de Janeiro.
Rodrigo Garcia, sports department manager for Rio 2016 Olympic organisers (WFI)

Rodrigo Garcia, sports department manager for the Rio 2016 committee, admitted to INSIDER during a recent tour of the Maracana that he is worried about the tight timeline for the plan to replace the pitch between the opening ceremony and the first of two semi-final games for the football competition.

The timeline calls for four to five days to plant the new grass, leaving just another four or five days before the first game is played.

Garcia said the original grass will be removed from the stadium after the opening ceremony and replaced with turf from a specially-grown grass field south of the city. The new grass will be removed from the ground in rolls and transported on trucks to the Maracana, a journey expected to take between 90 minutes and two hours.

There are two grass fields being prepared. Garcia said there will be a rehearsal in which each field will be pulled up and kept in trucks for the projected travel time. The grass field that holds up better in practice will be the one used.

Garcia told INSIDER that FIFA has signed off on the plan and will be involved throughout the process.

The Maracana (WFI)
The biggest worry is whether the field will be smooth and the seams between the rolls of grass will be small enough not to present a danger to the players.

Those are the two main issues faced by organizers who have put down temporary grass over artificial turf in North American stadiums for football games, including some of last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup matches.

Garcia pointed out that the grass being used at the Maracana will be transplanted with about half a metre of soil attached, much more than the few centimetres for the grass used to cover artificial turf in North America. He noted that since the Maracana is not a domed stadium, the grass will have a chance to receive some sunlight in the few days between the time it is planted and the first game.

August will be the dry season in Rio but Garcia admitted that if the pitch were to be hit with a large amount of rain just after being planted, it would be unplayable and at least some of the matches would have to be moved.

Even if all goes well, the new grass won’t last long. Garcia said it will be used for only four games as well as the closing ceremony of the Olympics and the ceremonies of the Paralympics. He said the turf will die after the Paralympics and be replaced by the second grass field that was specifically grown in the south of the country.

The Maracana will host a football game on May 8 before the stadium is closed in preparation for the Aug. 5 opening ceremony. The stadium, which usually holds 85,000 people for football, will seat 74,000 for Olympic football and only 54,000 for the opening and closing ceremonies.

By INSIDER Gerard Farek

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