Published on 06/24/10

World Cup soccer players kick it on UGA turfgrass

By Brad Haire

The World Cup is the premiere stage for soccer, the world’s most popular sport. This year, part of that stage is covered in a grass developed by a University of Georgia turfgrass breeder on the UGA campus in Tifton, Ga.

The 2010 World Cup started June 11 across South Africa. The players who’ve stepped onto the pitch at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban have been digging their heels into TifSport, a bermuda grass released in 1997 by Wayne Hanna, a crop and soil science professor with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“We’re pleased that a turfgrass developed in Georgia, in Tifton, is being used,” Hanna said. “I’m not too surprised because we work hard to do such broad testing over many areas in our breeding program and our releases do well in many parts of the world.”

TifSport was bred to be rugged, Hanna said. The dark-green grass is dense, disease-resistant, tolerates cold and does well in many environments and soil types. And, it holds up well and recovers quickly from a lot of foot traffic, an important characteristic for a soccer match. It is widely used to create American football fields across the Southeast and golf courses around the world.

"Wayne Hanna's reputation as a world-class turfgrass breeder is really unmatched," said J. Scott Angle, CAES dean and director. "And TifSport being used at this type of prestigious event is another example of how the innovations and technologies we're developing in Georgia are being appreciated and used around the world."

To create TifSport, Hanna took the germplasm of a cold-tolerant bermuda grass and irradiated it, a practice used in plant breeding to alter plant characteristics, to get a finer grass texture. This yielded 57 fine-textured bermuda grasses. They were grown and tested. A dozen years later, TifSport was born.

Since 1983, Hanna has released four other turfgrass varieties: the popular TifEagle, TifSport, TifBlair and recently TifGrand.

The World Cup is underway at several stadiums in South Africa. Finals will be later in July. The last match at what is being called the Durban Stadium during the tournament will be a semi-final match July 7.

TifSport is licensed by the University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.