Why does the Rio 2016 Olympic hockey pitch look so wet?
First off: yes, that stuff flying up when players hit the ball is water. Before every match, and depending on conditions even during half-time breaks, the pitch will be sprayed with water cannons and watered by ground staff.
The playing surface is artificial (blue, obviously), so this isn’t about maintaining the grass. It’s all about keeping the artificial playing surface in top condition.
Why do they need to spray the pitch with water?
The Rio 2016 hockey pitch, like all elite level pitches, is a ‘water-based hockey pitch’, as opposed to a sand-based surface. Anyone’s who’s ever played on a sandy artificial pitch knows that they can really rip up your skin if you fall on them.
Water-based pitches on the other hand cause less friction burns and injuries. This type of surface also means the ball rolls faster and straighter than other types of artificial pitch.
In order for this type of pitch to play properly, the layer of water in the artificial grass needs to be constantly re-filled, hence the water cannon on the side of the pitch. A sprinkle of water makes the ball run fast, helps make the surface more springy – and the inevitable falls less painful.
Any other reasons for the water?
Well, yes, apparently. The Guardian reported that just before GB women’s quarter-final match against Spain, a huge forest fire began to burn close by to the Olympic hockey venue. Ash began to fall on the pitch, and according to the reporter “the venue’s water cannons were used to wash the pitch”. Perhaps therefore that match had slightly more spray than usual…
Isn’t this a colossal waste of water?
It does seem quite daft, managing to do away with grass only to create a surface that requires even more watering. Various companies claim to have created more environmentally friendly surfaces, with better methods of conserving water.
Other innovations include large holding tanks that can collect water as it runs off the pitch.