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why the lawns of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 stadiums continue to be watered

6:22 p.m., Aug 5, 2022, amended to 9:42 p.m., Aug 5, 2022

In the sixty departments put on crisis alert, the fourth and highest level of drought alert in France, the watering of sports grounds is prohibited. If there is a derogation for greens golf courses, and this one was chronicled by the press and scandalized certain elected officials, another is also in force for “competition and training grounds with national or international stakes”, as specified in a document from the Ministry of the Ecological Transition. “The watering of sports grounds can include all types of disciplines: major games (football, rugby, etc.), horse sports and tennis”, illustrate the teams of Christophe Béchu. Typically, the lawns on which professional football teams play are therefore not affected by the bans.

“Their watering must nevertheless be limited to what is strictly necessary and may be prohibited in the event of a shortage of drinking water”, recalls the ministry. Moreover, the Minister of Ecological Transition Christophe Béchu, declared this Friday not to rule out “to toughen a number of restrictions”. The Professional Football League (LFP) has already announced that its lawn championship, supposed to reward the most beautiful lawn at the end of the season, has been suspended for the moment.

“Irrigation can condition the safety of athletes”

Because how do the authorities justify this derogation when the drought is at a stage never seen in France, that a hundred municipalities are deprived of drinking water, and that many French people do not even have the right to water their plants? “Irrigation can condition the safety of athletes or animals (in the case of equestrian centers or racetracks for example) or the maintenance of technical characteristics (clay courts of tennis courts)”argues the ministry.

We must consider the lawns of the stadiums as performance halls and no longer as simple lawned rectangles

Because, for example, a lawn deprived of water for several days and therefore in poor condition can be dangerous for football players, precisely when Ligue 1 begins this weekend. Hard ground, uneven grass or the presence of holes do not help the smooth running of the meeting either. “We must consider the lawns of the stadiums as performance halls and no longer as simple grassy rectangles”compares Jean-Marc Lecourt, president of the French Lawn Society. “These must be perfect on the one hand for the show and on the other for the physical integrity of the players”he continues, judging that “the water consumed to water them is not significant compared to other uses”.

However, the professional does not risk giving figures to quantify the water consumption of a club to maintain its lawn. “It varies greatly depending on the climatic conditions of the sector and the architecture of the stadium. Weekly water consumption is not the same at the Pierre Mauroy stadium in Lille as in Lyon, Marseille and Angers”. Some clubs, whose infrastructures are recent, have equipped their stadiums with rainwater collectors, in particular on the roof of the Bordeaux stadium.

Read also – Drought: how river tourism professionals cope

The Natural Grass company equips several turf stadiums in the first two levels of French football. Its founder, Bertrand Picard, explains: “Everyone is aware that you have to be parsimonious with the use of water, but of course the lawn needs water to grow. »

Asked for any details concerning the use of water by professional clubs, the LFP refers to the local level: “The measures taken concerning the ban on watering lawns are strictly the responsibility of the prefectures. Discussions are therefore held at local level between the club and the prefecture depending on the state of the situation..

It’s common sense but do not water in the heat and in the middle of the day.

In the Alpes-Maritimes, a large part of which is on high alert for drought, the OGC Nice club ensures “limit watering as much as possible”without providing further details. “It is better to water at certain times of the evening or very early in the morning, which the stadium managers do very well. It’s common sense, but you shouldn’t water in the heat and in the middle of the day: firstly because there is significant evaporation and because you risk bringing diseases by watering in the sun. »translated Jean-Marc Lecourt.

The “sub-irrigation” solution

However, in July, Stade Rennais was caught watering the lawn of its training center in the middle of the day, while the Ille-et-Vilaine department was placed on heightened alert, as had been note 20 minutes and that a prefectural decree prohibited it. Caught in the act by the association Eau et Rivières de Bretagne, the club had admitted its fault: “There were a few small waterings during the day. It’s an error on our part, there was a hiccup internally. There is no manifest will on our part.regretted a spokesman for Stade Rennais in the free newspaper.

For several years, the turf sector has understood that it would have to follow the ecological aspirations of society, by developing lawns that are sparing in water consumption. Natural Grass has developed a lawn capable of retaining 30 to 40% more water compared to other solutions. Many clubs, from Real Madrid to Arsenal via Toulouse have passed the milestone. “The problems must be resolved upstream, in particular by choosing the right species and the right varieties. Watering at the moment T is not the subject », abounds Jean-Marc Lecourt. As a result, new grasses, usually used in southern countries, are now used in Monaco, Toulouse or Nice.

But Natural Grass relies instead on a watering technique that is developing: “sub-irrigation”: instead of sending water to the grass, it is introduced from below, which would considerably reduce its use. “This revolutionary technology will arrive in 2023 and should enable water savings of around 80%”, says Bertrand Picard. Combined with rainwater storage, it could even make stadium lawns self-sufficient in water.

You have to be realistic and honest, we are not going to divide water consumption by 10. There are locks.

And what about synthetic turf which, at first glance, appears to be more economical since it does not require water to grow the blades of grass? Could they therefore represent an effective solution for professional clubs wanting to be parsimonious in their use of water? For the moment no: already because the LFP prohibits official competitions on synthetic ground. And also because thinking that these artificial surfaces do not need to be watered when it is hot is wrong according to Jean-Marc Lecourt: “Irrigation systems have been developed, including in Brittany, to lower the surface temperature of synthetic turf. »

Read also – Drought: can you water your flowers, wash your car or fill your swimming pool in a department in crisis?

Because where natural grass allows a drop in temperature on its surface, those that are artificial (plastic, tar) are victims of the opposite phenomenon. During the last Tour de France, for example, the organization sometimes had to organize the watering of certain sections of road to prevent the tar from melting, which would have been dangerous for cyclists. “Watering plastic without recovering the water or if it is done, filled with polluting residues, is anything but ecological”, he concludes. A member of the network summarizes the problem: “In France, everyone is trying to find ways to limit water consumption. But we have to be realistic and honest, we are not going to divide it by 10. There are locks. »

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