The Scottish Professional Football League have defended the use of artificial pitches throughout their four divisions, insisting they have the backing of world governing body Fifa.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard became the latest high-profile figure to criticise synthetic surfaces in Scottish football after his winger Jamie Murphy suffered a knee injury at Rugby Park on Sunday.
Gerrard claimed such pitches should not be permitted in the top flight, adding his voice to those such as Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers who has previously condemned their use.
But such complaints look set to fall on deaf ears with the SPFL claiming they adopt strict and regular inspections to ensure the safety and suitability of all synthetic pitches being used by their member clubs.
“The use of artificial playing surfaces is permitted within the SPFL rules and prevalent in Fifa competitions,” an SPFL spokesman told The Scotsman.
“All pitches of this nature must undergo an independent inspection against Fifa criteria before they are approved. Once in operation they must then pass an annual Fifa inspection. Premiership pitches also face three in-season random inspections from the SPFL to ensure they meet required standards.”
There are now three artificial playing surfaces in the Scottish Premiership with Livingston installing one at the Tony Macaroni Arena this summer to join Kilmarnock and Hamilton Accies.
In total, 15 of the SPFL’s 42 clubs now have artificial pitches at their grounds. There are three in the Championship (Alloa, Falkirk, Queen of the South), six in League One (Airdrie, East Fife, Forfar, Montrose, Raith Rovers, Stenhousemuir) and three in League Two (Annan, Clyde, Edinburgh City).
The proliferation of the surfaces has been driven by economic factors and wider community use of the facilities at the venues concerned. But the debate over the part they can play in causing injuries to players has intensified with PFA Scotland last season conducting a survey of their members in which they were asked to rate the different pitches they played on throughout the campaign.
The much-criticised artificial surfaces at Hamilton and Kilmarnock fared badly in the survey, being ranked 42nd and 40th respectively out of all 42 senior grounds.
But it seems some synthetic pitches are less unpopular than others with players – Alloa’s surface at the Indodrill Stadium was ranked in 10th place, higher than both Celtic Park (11th) and Ibrox (14th). This summer, a new £1.5 million hybrid grass pitch has been laid at Celtic Park following lobbying of the club’s board by manager Rodgers.
Rangers captain James Tavernier expressed his exasperation on Sunday at the concerns of players being ignored, despite their participation in the PFA survey.
PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart yesterday repeated his assertion that the SPFL have a duty to ensure the improvement of surfaces throughout the game.
“It isn’t just about artificial surfaces, it is about improving all surfaces across Scottish football whether they are grass or artificial,” said Wishart.
“It is often forgotten that the pitch is our members’ place of work and for that reason we gave, and continue to give, them a vehicle to voice their opinion.
“Players are the ones with the knowledge of how a pitch plays and how it feels underfoot. It makes perfect sense to ask them for their views.
“The players have spoken and continue to air their views, so it is incumbent on the footballing authorities to listen to what the players are saying and do what is required to improve the quality of surfaces around Scotland.”