What makes a football match great? Is it the passionate players, fancy footwork, great teamwork, or electrifying atmosphere at the stadium?
Well, none of these would be possible without WATER!
As football fever descends upon us with Euro 2016 underway, Water Chatter joins in the wave of excitement by looking into why water is so important to football.
For maintaining the football pitch
The pitch is the heart of any stadium.
When you watch football on TV, have you wondered why the pitches always look so green and lush all the time?
That’s because a lot of water is used to maintain the surface quality of the pitch. Ethical Consumer Magazine estimates that it takes 20,000 litres of water per day to maintain a football pitch in the English Premier League. To keep the pitch at Wembly Stadium in world-class condition, it is watered up to 4 times a day in the summer, using a staggering 10,000,000 litres of water a year! To put that in perspective, that’s way more water than an average Singaporean will use in his/her lifetime – given that our water usage is about 150 litres a day!
Despite demanding huge amounts of water (and not to mention, money) to maintain, natural grass pitches are still favoured in professional English football, as it is thought to be softer, safer and more ball-responsive than artificial turf.
There’s still hope for football though, as we hear of more stadiums jumping on board the sustainability bandwagon by factoring water and energy saving features in their design. For example, rainwater harvesting by means of artificial lakes or pipes underneath pitches for irrigation is one option in use at many clubs and stadiums including Chelsea FC and the Millennium Stadium. At Stade de Nice, one of the 10 Euro 2016 venues, rainwater is channelled from the stadium roof into four collection reservoirs and is then used to water the pitch. Aston Villa have even gone one further by collecting rainwater on the rooftops of Villa Park’s Holte End to irrigate a field of another kind: a farm nearby that grows fruit and vegetables for the club restaurant.
More and more professional leagues in other parts of Europe and around the world are also converting to third-generation artificial or hybrid grass pitches due to advances in turf technologies that more or less resolves the issues of the past. In fact, four out of ten French stadiums that will be hosting Euro 2016 matches use hybrid grass while the rest have natural grass pitches. Closer to home, the turf at our very own Singapore Sports Hub also combines natural grass with artificial grass.
Playing football for 90 minutes is strenuous and requires a lot of physical stamina.
As such, football players need to have proper hydration because it cools the body down, helps blood circulate properly, lubricates and cushions joints, reduce risk of injury as well as help to maintain peak fitness levels.
According to the American Council on Exercise, water is preferably the best (and healthiest) drink to consume, but drinks that contain electrolytes are also recommended after high intensity exercise.
Incredibly, football players can lose up to 1-5% of body weight through sweating (that’s up to 4.5 kg in hot humid conditions!), hence it is important to replace fluids to ensure that they do not become dehydrated and to prevent any risk of heat injury.
There are no set guidelines for how much water needs to be drunk though, because every athlete is different. It depends on their height, sweat rate, weight, level of activity, the weather conditions (temperature, humidity) and duration of the activity.
Anticipating the soaring temperatures of the desert, FIFA will be implementing more water breaks during the 2022 Qatar World Cup matches to allow players a brief time-out to drink some water in particularly hot playing conditions.
And did you know that water needs to be drunk not just during and after a match. Proper hydration actually begins 24 hours before the start of the game begins! This way, your body will have enough time to absorb the water before it has to use it.
Taking the cold plunge into a bath of ice has become an increasingly popular recovery routine for athletes after intense exercise. Ice baths are generally believed to help the body recover from vigorous workout by reducing swelling of the muscles, tendons, bones and nerves and get rid of aches and pains.
However, there has been scepticism among the scientific and medical community about how effective ice baths are. In fact, there seems to be little solid scientific research to support a case that ice baths are either beneficial or detrimental for athletes.
Nonetheless, it is not stopping footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo from taking the cold plunge after matches.
Former Real Madrid Coach Carlo Ancelotti has complimented the star player about this dedication to the sport, saying that “we would sometimes return from a European game. It could be three in the morning but Ronaldo would be the player who did not go straight home. Instead, he would go to the training ground for the ice bath, to help with his recovery from the game.”
It has also been reported that Ronaldo had a cryotherapy chamber installed at his house in 2013 to aid recovery. And what’s cryotherapy you might ask? It’s the practice of exposing the body to extreme temperatures as low as -160C to provoke a process of muscle regeneration and immune-system stimulation. EEEKS! NO PAIN NO GAIN!
To address sanitary challenges
During a football match, tens of thousands of spectators will throng through the gates of the stadium. Facilities such as washrooms need to be designed to cater to such large crowds. In Wembly, one of the largest stadiums in the world, there are a mind-boggling number of toilets: 2,618 to be exact – more than any other venue in the world. Even if only half of spectators decide to visit the washroom during half time, can you imagine how much water is required to flush the loos and wash hands?
Magnified on such a large scale, football clubs are recognising that water consumption is a concern. UEFA even produced a guide on how to build quality stadiums, with numerous recommendations for environment sustainability as well as water saving initiatives. This include recycling water from showers and other “clean” areas (known as grey water) for reuse in the toilets to achieve substantial water savings and using waterless urinals that use a “trap insert” filled with a sealant liquid instead of water.
At Stade Vélodrome in Marseille (another Euro 2016 venue) water consumption have been reduced because, thanks to a thermal loop, the stadium is supplied with warm water heated by a nearby water treatment plant. In addition, three wind turbines power rainwater recovery pumps which provide water for the toilets and for watering the pitch. At Arsenal FC’s home ground, Emirates Stadium, waterless urinals have been fitted around the entire stadium. Water saving measures have been fitted to the toilets and run times have been minimised on push taps.