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Artificial turf sparks debate on sport safety

Although student athletes say turf hurts, experts disagree

The possible location of a new artificial turf field at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School. Lindsey Lloyd Photo
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Reported by Lindsey Lloyd

Student athletes and sports experts disagree about the safety of artificial turf scheduled to be placed on the field of one of three shortlisted Vancouver schools.

Professional soccer, rugby and football players have long complained that the fake grass is tough on their joints and rough on the skin when they fall. Many experts, however, say there are no more reports of injuries on artificial turf than natural grass fields.

Artificial turf hurts more when you fall: Falcon

Former Langara Falcons soccer player, Chelsea Simpkins, said she tore her ACL while playing a soccer game on artificial turf last year and believes the turf was a factor in her injury.

“[Turf] is like concrete when you fall,” Simpkins said. “On the grass, you fall and it’s not as hard, [turf] doesn’t have as much give.”

Concerns for the safety of playing sports on turf fields stem back to the 60s when the first generation of AstroTurf was made from a pile of carpet on top of padding and concrete.

However, Alex Scott, the director of UBC’s tendon injury prevention and rehabilitation laboratory, said the more modern versions have better shock absorption and current academic studies show there is not a difference in injury rates for athletes playing sports on turf versus playing on grass.

“Most athletes that you talk to don’t enjoy playing on turf. There feels like there’s more load going through your joints, that there isn’t as much shock absorption [compared to grass],” Scott said.

Physical disparities unrelated to turf: City

The City of Vancouver Parks Board Commissioner, Casey Crawford, said the Parks Board planning staff has not found anything definitive when it comes to physical disparities between playing sports on turf and grass and that there are still studies being conducted regarding young athletes and if they should be concerned about how many hours they spend on turf.

Crawford said the new turf being placed by the parks on either Beaconsfield Park, Clinton Park or South Vancouver’s Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School between 2018 and 2019 will most likely be similar to the turf recently installed at Point Grey Secondary School, which has modern technology and is environmentally friendly.

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