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Safe and sustainable AFL playing surfaces


In the project (trademarked Sureplay®), the Department and AFL Queensland staff worked together to improve community sports fields-fields played on by junior footballers and used for League fixtures.

The project was successful in improving AFL playing surfaces, particularly through the recognition of the importance of ground hardness on surface quality. Surface condition can be improved with judicious irrigation design, maintenance and management, aeration and soil amendments. The project provided critical support for continued sports field irrigation during tight water restrictions.

The work was made available through an extensive program of industry events and publications.


Full titleBest management practices for sustainable and safe playing surface of Australian Football League sports fields
DatesStart date: July 2003
End date: June 2007
Project leaderCraig Henderson, 07 5466 2222
  • Demonstrate potential best management practices for AFL sportsfields in subtropical Queensland
  • Review current world practice and performance benchmarks relevant to community standard fields
  • Develop methodologies for surface benchmarking and define relevant performance standards
  • Improve player safety on community-based AFL sports fields by addressing issues of surface hardness and playability, focusing on low cost methods for improving surface quality-soil profile and irrigation management
  • Evaluate soil profile amendments in the laboratory and the field
  • Deliver workshops, seminars, training events, field days and publications to ground curators to improve their ability to self-manage their playing surfaces and ensure the sustainability of project outcomes
  • Established scientifically based sports field management protocols and benchmarks
  • Increased the technical and professional proficiency of paid and voluntary sports field curators
  • Improved water use efficiency and environmental stewardship
  • Increased facility access and sports participation, with reduced injury levels
  • Provided community sportsfields with cost-effective strategies for managing their fields with limited resources
MethodologyDepartment of Primary industries and Fisheries (DPI&F) Project Component:
A comprehensive literature review of best practice benchmarking, renovation and maintenance, covering elite and non-elite sports fields was conducted.

Eleven non-elite fields and one elite field (for comparison) were selected for benchmarking. Surface characteristics were measured on nine occasions through the life of the project including: hardness, torsional resistance, shear resistance, turf height, surface soil strength, turf coverage and composition, and surface soil moisture. Six test positions (including the goal mouths) were selected on each field.

Irrigation audits were conducted in general accordance with Irrigation Association of Australia certification requirements. Audits were conducted after 9:00 pm at night and three sprinklers were audited per field. 12 x 13 catch can grids at 3 m spacings were used around each sprinkler. Static and operating mainline pressure, the static and operating flow rate at the mainline meter, operating pressure and condition of all sprinklers and the precipitation in catch cans were measured. From this data, distribution uniformity (DU) was calculated, head to head sprinkler coverage was assessed and a precipitation map constructed. Operating sprinkler pressures were used to calculate estimated variation in pressures due to system design versus maintenance issues. Field water usage was calculated from precipitation rates and likely irrigation regimes.

Findings regarding the project were widely distributed to industry via workshops, field days, seminars, training events and publications throughout the process.

AchievementsThrough regular scientific assessment of project fields, the Sureplay® team identified ground hardness as the No. 1 problem. Applying project results, AFLQ now regularly audits affiliated fields several times per year, using a specific instrument. AFLQ closes grounds that are not of standard.

Throughout the project, the Sureplay® team concentrated on regular ground aeration, and effective irrigation practices. Eventually, playing conditions on many AFLQ grounds approached those of elite national fields.

Benchmarking measurements suggested that hardness, penetrability and inconsistent traction become problems in goal squares, centre squares and training flanks when they begin to dry out. Surface water content appears to be the major management factor for the manipulation of playing surface conditions and safety on many grounds. Interestingly, turf height and condition had little impact on measured hardness, although hard, compacted areas such as goal squares also had less desirable turf cover.

The Sureplay® team audited irrigation across project grounds. Poor system maintenance was a problem, with less than 65% of sprinklers operating properly. Re-adjusting sprinklers, and fitting more appropriate nozzles, significantly improved irrigation evenness. The team investigated weekly watering, and waiting longer after rain before re-starting automatic systems. These strategies reduced irrigation requirement by more than 30%, compared to non-project fields. This was a critical finding during a time of drought. It helped convince authorities to still allow sports field irrigation, despite harsher water restrictions.

The presence of tufted weed species (Eleusine indica and Eragrostis spp.) has been identified as a major cause of uneven playing surfaces. These weeds are particularly present in the compacted and worn areas in centre corridors and training shed flank.

Sureplay® investigated subsurface incorporation of organic materials (e.g. composts), before laying turf in high wear areas (e.g. goal mouths). The results – softer playing surfaces in dry soils. In a regular football season, top-dressing turf with crumb rubber helped grass persist into early winter. However, neither process could stop loss of turf following consistent heavy wear. Research into managing high-wear sections of community sports fields is a priority.

Apart from enabling research and ground improvements, project funding helped publish more than 80 articles, and hold 100+ industry events, with several thousand participants. A structured curator training program, with accompanying resources, may be commercialised.

Project staffCraig Henderson, Larry Cooper, Kaylene Bransgrove and Greg Finlay (all DPI&F); Nick Jeffrey and Craig Moffatt (AFL Queensland), Neil Power (Irrigation Turfgrass Consultancy Group), Steve Raine and Jochen Eberhard (University of Southern Queensland).
FundingHorticulture Australia Limited (HAL), AFL Queensland, Brisbane Lions Football Club, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Irrigation Turfgrass Consultancy Group, McCracken´s Water Services, St Margaret´s Anglican Girls School, Hortech Services Pty. Ltd., Black Kubota.
Collaborating agenciesAFL Queensland, Brisbane Lions Football Club, Irrigation Turfgrass Consultancy Group, Hortech Services Pty. Ltd., University of Southern Queensland, St Margaret´s Anglican Girls School, National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture.
Research locationsBrisbane Cricket Ground/”The Gabba”; Morningside AFL Club: Mt Gravatt AFL Club: Brisbane Lions AFL Club, Coorparoo; Zillmere Road Football Ground; Everton Football Park; Sherwood Football Ground; Redlands Football Ground; St Margaret´s Anglican Girls School sports field; Broadbreach AFL Club; Labrador AFL Club and Southport AFL Club.


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