Water shortage, restrictions, grilled lawns… How are the clubs coping with the drought?

2045, Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Phil Foden, the manager of the Citizens, looks serious when he sees his players enter a sun-baked lawn, far from the pool table on which Pep Guardiola’s players usually frolic. This City match could also be the last. In an England plagued by repeated droughts and a shortage of water, stadiums are closing their doors one by one. It is “the end of football”. This short film produced by the American company Xylem, a specialist in water management, and Manchester City, was released in 2020 to raise awareness among supporters on the issue of lack of water and its waste.

A bit like this fake weather map of 2050 by Evelyne Dhéliat, “The End of the Football” is unfortunately ahead of scientists’ forecasts. Oh sure it’s not the end of football, but it is the beginning of repeated episodes of droughts and water shortages. As France faces a new heat wave and almost all departments are on “crisis alert” – the fourth and highest level of drought alert in France – the question of watering professional football pitches is today at the center of questions.

The LFP calls on clubs to rational watering »

If it does not seem (yet?) in the sights of public opinion, unlike golf which unleashed a wave of indignation on social networks, it also benefits from derogations to water the lawns of grounds of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2. Without that, it is the pure and simple cessation of competitions. But that doesn’t mean it’s open bar. He too must participate in the collective effort, as the LFP reminded us this week when announcing the suspension of the grandstand championship “due to the very hot weather and the prolonged drought”.

The Professional Football League invites the Ligue 1 Uber Eats and Ligue 2 BKT clubs and the Prefectures, which are the only decision-makers in the matter, to come together to study locally if the most reasoned watering possible can be put in place.

“You have to find the right balance, because the land is the working tool, explained to AFP Baptiste Malherbe, general manager of AJ Auxerre, which pumps its water in neighboring Yonne. But we are careful, we limit watering as much as possible”. Business manager for the Breton company Sparfel, which equips the stadiums of Brest, Guingamp, Caen, Le Havre and Ajaccio with lawns, Benjamin Cottat admits to “managing this from day to day” according to prefectural orders for watering restrictions.

He details: “We water as much as possible at night because it is generally only on this section that we are authorized to do so. In Caen for example at the moment, it is from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Afterwards, we don’t water constantly from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., we do it according to the needs of the land while being careful not to draw too much water either. Afterwards, clubs can request exceptions for match days. »

Between water savings and player safety, a fair balance has to be found

In some departments, on the other hand, it is belt and ramp, as in the Côtes d’Armor where a prefectural decree fell on Wednesday evening to prohibit watering night and day. On the way to the Roudourou de Guingamp stadium to “try to find solutions”, Benjamin Cottat concedes that “it’s yet another problem”. “For the pros, the club should have a waiver but nothing is certain at the moment,” he explains.

However, who says no watering of the lawns says increased risk of injury for the players. Cotta, always: A field with little or no water, inevitably there are risks for the physical integrity of the players. We are on substrates essentially made of sand, it is the phenomenon of the sandbox in quotation marks: when the sand is wet, the ground holds together, when the sand is dry, the ground does not hold together and that is where ‘we can witness the tearing of pieces of lawn, loss of support due to a lack of absorption during changes of direction and this can quickly lead to injuries. This is our primary fear. »

It is this risk that led the Lyonnais to rant at the League against FC Lorient, supposed to welcome them on Sunday on behalf of the second day, and whose lawn is in a catastrophic state. Toasted by the sun and damaged by the installation of a concert stage within the framework of the Interceltic Festival which takes place there, the Moustoir lawn cannot under any circumstances host a football match in good security conditions for the players. Contacted by 20 minutes, neither FC Lorient nor the town hall responded to our interview requests, proof that the subject is hot (no pun intended). For its part, the LFP ended up coming to terms with the facts and announcing the postponement of the meeting to a later date.

“A priori this is only the beginning…”

Clubs are increasingly addressing these issues, such as Marseille and Lille, which use rainwater harvesting systems for their lawns. Rennes has planned to follow the movement in its future training center. We would have liked to be able to develop the subject with the Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs, but our many interview requests have remained unanswered… For their part, specialized companies like Sparfel, dependent on climate change, are trying to best fit.

“For us, as a sector, not the company as such, climate change has been a reality for several years now and has had visible impacts on lawns. We have more and more diseases appearing, developing and spreading to more and more regions. This implies a different management, a change of grasses already, therefore of the type of lawn used, to have plants that are more resistant to diseases, to heat and which require less water. In the southern half of France, for example. »

In the future, this type of grass may also have to populate the northern half of the country because “the question that arises is that of water resources in the ground, concludes the business manager. We see that we have less and less, this year we have big alerts, we have never had so many restrictions on French territory, suffocating heat and very low rainfall. And a priori this is only the beginning…”

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