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Roof Does Not Guarantee a Dry Stadium

By Jeremy Inson -- October 22, 2012 10:38 PM EDT

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The postponement of England's World Cup qualifier away to Poland at the National Stadium, Warsaw on Tuesday, October 16, certainly wasn't the first match to be postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, but it was probably the first time that such a situation occurred at a stadium with a roof.

Both sides had trained on the pitch with the roof open on Monday and as FIFA protocol states that the match must take place under the same circumstances that the teams trained under, so they were all set to play under the elements; All well and good until the heavens opened late Tuesday afternoon and left the pitch at the Ł500million ($800million) venue as nothing more than a bog.

It was a farcical sight. Even though heavy rain had been forecast, no-one had thought to consult the authorities and so with half an hour until kick-off, fans were greeted by the referee Gianluca Rocchi trying to kick the ball across the grass and not managing to move it more than a few feet; England's coaching team were on the sidelines watching the rain fall, but no-one from the Polish FA was present, nor was there anyone on the pitch trying to do anything about the standing water, with not a pitch fork in sight.

Underlying this was the fact that there had clearly been no discussion between FIFA and the Polish FA about closing the roof. Then when they did decide that it may be a good idea, they were unable to start the 20-minute process because it would be dangerous; even if they had closed the roof mind that would have still left the pitch unplayable anyway.

Meanwhile there were many in Warsaw and watching on TV who had been to Poland during the European Championships in June and July this year who were left to wonder why, when the country was enjoying blazing sunshine, were matches played undercover? Yet those in autumn would be played in the open?

In the end both teams and the supporters who remained in the Polish capital traipsed back to watch the next day and saw the two sides struggle to shake of the effects of hanging around another 20 hours to finish with an honourable 1-1 draw.

Welsh National fortress

Roofs are becoming a more and more common feature of modern stadium design. The Millennium Stadium, Wales' national home in Cardiff which was built for the 1999 Rugby World Cup regularly hosts matches under a closed roof, though there is many a canny coach who tries to undermine the Welsh efforts by asking for it to be left open.

The reason for such thinking is that Wales play better in dry conditions that suit their fast handling and running style of play. As such if they have to tackle the elements as well the theory runs that they have less chance to play their best. It has sometimes led to a stand-off between the two coaches but in the matches that matter, the team from the Principality usually comes out on top whether the roof is open or not.

For sports fans in the United Kingdom the first time they saw a closed roof stadium was during the 1994 FIFA World Cup when matches took place at the Pontiac Silverdome near Detroit. In the stinking hot summer days the British television team often went to air drenched in sweat so high was the humidity, while the players were allowed drink breaks throughout the match to stop them from dehydrating.

All England Club under cover

Wimbledon's centre court had a roof added in 2009 to ensure that the impact of the traditional British summertime rain was kept to a minimum. The roof takes 10 minutes to close, though with the need to adjust the air conditioning matches can be delayed for 45 minutes. Furthermore tournament rules dictate that once the roof is closed the match must be finished that way, even if there is bright sunshine outside.

The All England Tennis and Croquet club held a lavish ceremony once the roof was completed and featured a doubles match between Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf against Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters. While there were many that tut-tutted at the time, there was the realisation that the Club needed to move with the times and it has now become a welcome relief to fans who otherwise might have been forced to listen to Cliff Richard ad nauseum on wet days.

At the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin was a popular venue for a number of matches, notably the final pool match between Ireland and Italy in which 30,000 green-shirted fans made the experience feel as though there was double the number under the permanent, plexi-glassed roof, the first of its kind in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

There is likely to be more stadiums built with either a roof that can be opened and closed or a permanent one in future years. Issues of practicality and technology available mean it is almost unforgivable for stadium designers not to include one. Any fears over whether the grass pitch will receive enough sun and wind throughout the week are easily assuaged by allowing for it in the design.

Once the stadium has been completed, it just need judicious running of the venue, to ensure that the players are able to perform in the best conditions available - something that clearly didn't happen last week in Warsaw.

Photo attributed to Przemysław Jahr

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