The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off later today with hosts Russia taking on Saudi Arabia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.

But while the tournament takes place on Russian soil, half the pitches have been provided by UK sports surface specialist SIS Pitches, which has previously worked on projects such as England’s St George’s Park.

As well as the Luzhniki, which will also host the World Cup final, SIS Pitches has also designed, constructed and installed the surfaces at the Samara Arena, Saransk Stadium, Rostov Stadium, Spartak Stadium and Kaliningrad Stadium – where England face Belgium.

All feature the SISGrass hybrid surface, which combines 95% natural grass with 5% synthetic turf and is installed with patented injection technology and laser guidance for accuracy. SIS claims the SISGrass system offers longer playing hours and faster recovery time after each game.

TheStadiumBusiness spoke to SIS Pitches CEO George Mullan about the challenges of developing six World Cup pitches and how the prestigious contracts will impact the company’s future plans…

Could you tell us about how the Russia 2018 deal came about?

George Mullan: “Working in Russia on the World Cup stadiums was a huge contract to land, installing six of the tournament’s stadium pitches including the iconic Luzhniki.

“We’ve actually had an office in Russia for around four years, because we specifically targeted the World Cup, and we knew we had the expertise to deliver it.”

What kind of challenges did you face over the course of the process?

GM: “Logistically, it’s presented us with no major issues compared to some projects we’ve worked on around the world. We’ve installed pitches in Iraq, for example, where we had the Army and Police guarding the crew as they worked to ensure their safety.”

How did you find working with FIFA/Russia 2018 compared to other major projects?

GM: “Contractually, we’ve had to adapt our usual practice. For the World Cup we’ve needed to allow the Russians to take control of the maintenance of five out of the six pitches we installed.

“Of course, we’d prefer to be in charge of ensuring the quality of all of the pitches we build, and especially for the World Cup, where the standard of the playing surface is crucial.

“For all stadiums we’ve worked on, except Luzhniki, we’ve officially handed the surfaces over to the stadium’s own maintenance teams.

“At the point of that handover, the quality of those pitches was to the highest international standards.”

Could you tell us about the pitches themselves?

GM: “Our hybrid pitches are made with our SISGrass technology, so that’s a durable product and will quickly recover after being used. Before opening ceremony day, 10 hours of rehearsals took place on the Luzhniki Stadium pitch – an intensive schedule – but our pitches can take that kind of punishment.”

How do you believe working on a World Cup contract will impact SIS Pitches?

GM: “It is a huge contract and we’re honoured to have secured it. We already have some exciting projects in hand, across the globe.

“This summer in the UK we will be installing hybrid pitches at Brighton & Hove Albion FC, Southampton FC and Hearts.

“We have just completed our first two projects in Japan for the Rugby World Cup next year, and we are also installing 31 training pitches in Qatar ahead of the next World Cup.

“While the stadiums themselves are the high profile win, it’s the training pitches that are the most lucrative.”

What about sports other than football?

GM: “We’re pleased to be in the US for the first time this summer completing a first-of-its-kind project for the Green Bay Packers.

“We have also just stitched cricket wickets at the Oval and Lord’s, which will be a significant development for the sport, plus we’re entering the golf market.

“So things are very busy at the moment – it’s an exciting time for SIS Pitches.”

Images courtesy of SIS Pitches