Greenleaf Gramados is a company based in Brazil that has been installing and maintaining sports field surfaces since 1988. Recently the company has completed a major sod sprigging job inside a mega-stadium called Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. Greenleaf Gramados has been the company responsible for the maintenance at Maracanã for a number of years.
This is not the first time Greenleaf Gramados has completely resurfaced Maracanã’s playing field. The company originally installed big rolls of Celebration® Bermudagrass in 2013 ahead of the stadium hosting the final match of the 2014 World Cup. They had had experience with Celebration growing it at some of the training facilities for the World Cup. That experience gave them enough confidence that Celebration would perform best in this major stadium.
Greenleaf Gramados also installed Celebration for the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics inside Maracanã, using big rolls of sod. The grass was removed for the duration of the Olympic games, and then re-installed for the closing Olympic ceremony.
Last year, due to some rooting problems from the big roll installation and the excessive number of games played during the year, the field started having some overplay issues. Greenleaf Gramados took it upon itself to find a new solution that would solve some of the problems and would allow Celebration to perform well. That’s when they used their expertise in sod sprigging to determine that, instead of sodding, they would sprig the entire stadium with Celebration.
“The main reason we re-surfaced Maracanã this time was that the roots from the big roll installations were not developing as much as we’d hoped through the layer of clay and into the ground,” explained Alexandre Vieira, a partner and technical director of Greenleaf Gramados.
Vieira went on to explain that the stadium had expectations of being able to play over 80 games in one year, which would put a lot of strain on the field and grass. They determined in order to attempt to endure that many games, the field needed a better root system than before.
“We decided to sprig Celebration, as this variety does much better in the warm climate here in Rio, and we believe it will be more successful this way instead of big roll installation,” he added. Also, both Greenleaf Gramados and the staff at Maracanã were pleased with Celebration’s exceptional recovery rate and its performance in shade over the past several years inside the stadium. The sprigs were planted on December 20, 2021 and grew-in in a record 38 days. “We have never seen anything like this before. We were all amazed at how quickly the Celebration took over the field and grew in,” shared Lucas Pedrosa, the other partner and technical director of Greenleaf Gramados.
While Greenleaf Gramados knew the grass would grow in fast, they were surprised by how well Celebration responded to the products they applied and how fast it spread over the playing surface inside Maracanã. They decided to plant during their summer season, with weather conditions bringing heat and plenty of water into the field to help expedite the growth.
“Many years ago, we had to do a renovation in a location that was not as hot as Rio, and we didn’t have the technology or better products like we did for this renovation. That renovation was a big mess removing and redoing the soil profile. We have learned so much about planting sprigs since then,” Pedrosa said.
With a sand profile in Maracanã, before they started sprigging, Greenleaf Gramados incorporated phosphorus for the root growth establishment and made sure they were using all new products available on the surface with no older fertilizers. After sprigging, they used several specific fertilizer blend applications every four days that varied in balance to help increase the root growth and shootings from the sprigs.
“The fertilized grass had a quick reaction. The sprigs quickly started to shoot new leaves and develop new growth. Next, we added products to the soil to enhance and serve as a wetting agent for the moisture to be held into the soil,” Pedrosa shared.
Twenty-one days after it was planted, there was enough growth for Greenleaf Gramados to begin mowing, using a rotary mower cutting the grass just a little over an inch at 30 millimeters. Then they began spacing out the granular and foliar fertilization and growth hormones to stimulate even more growth. After three applications, they were able to start mowing the grass with a reel mower, set to about 33 millimeters.
Recently, Greenleaf Gramados began to transform the pitch with a new hybrid technology where fibers are stitched 12 inches deep into the ground to enhance soil stability and improve wear tolerance. The company completing this stitching in Maracanã is called Grass Max Systems. The process takes several weeks and once complete it will help the playing surface be able to host more games and handle more traffic.
Once stitched, the stadium will be stuck with this surface for some time as it is expensive to remove. Any repairs will need to be done with small restitching of these synthetic materials. Vieira said that some of the field managers notice that Celebration has better stability and can develop roots, even where shade can be an issue inside a stadium.
Maracanã is the second stadium in South America to undergo this type of stitching with a warm season turfgrass variety. The other is also on a Celebration field inside River Plate Stadium in Argentina. “That’s two big stadiums using this new technology for repair and recovery,” Vieira added. Their climate and expectations to administer more games within a year have encouraged the champion league stadiums to utilize these hybrid grass and fiber fields to maintain a consistent surface regardless of weather conditions.
Vieira and Pedrosa both agreed that the players don’t notice the type of grass so much as they’re concerned with the playability and good traction for a ball to roll smoothly on the field. Players also want the moisture of the field’s soil to not be too dry or too wet.
Greenleaf Gramados has also installed Tifway fields and Vieira explained that Celebration Bermudagrass tends to have better recovery time and performs better in direct sunlight and shade. They replaced Tifway with Celebration inside of the Amazon Arena in Manaus, Brazil. Vieira explained that this field has ideal temperature and water conditions but nevertheless, since installing Celebration, they’ve noticed fewer repairs and shorter recovery time.
Vieira explained that November 2010 was the first-time high-quality video of soccer games exposed the bad image of the playing surfaces in the World Cup when it was played in South Africa. So, when the World Cup was being hosted in 2014 in Brazil, FIFA implemented standards for the playing surfaces to meet the urge for improved conditions.
In order to meet FIFA standards at that time, Greenleaf Gramados partnered with a British company. But, that company only had a little experience with maintaining warm-season grasses so Greenleaf Gramados had to contribute their expertise on these varieties to achieve the results FIFA expected.
Greenleaf Gramados made partnerships in Qatar ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup which will be hosted there at the end of this year. Based on their work in 2014, they were given a chance to install the playing surfaces for the 2022 FIFA World Cup games. Of the eight World Cup stadiums in Qatar, Greenleaf Gramados had a role in installing grass inside of five of them. They also accomplished resurfacing of a stadium in record time, completing the jobs in less than 8 hours. This is an important trait for when the stadiums are expected to replace a playing surface quickly between games to meet quality standards. When turning a field’s surface over in these urgent situations, Vieira said both Greenleaf Gramados and the local sod farms have to be prepared to supply and install turfgrass on short notice.
Greenleaf Gramados is hopeful to be considered for bids for building and surfacing stadiums when the 2026 FIFA World Cup is played in America, Mexico and Canada. Sod Solutions Professionals hopes to work with this company and many others to accomplish putting the most premier sports turf into these complexes in the coming years.
For more information about Greenleaf Gramados click here.
This article was written by Cecilia Brown.