14 Hour Stadium Pitch Conversion for the Commonwealth Games 2022

Ever wondered how a stadium can convert its playing surface to host events and concerts, and quickly change it back? With rapid pitch conversion, the need to secure an experienced and reliable contractor who understands what it takes to carryout this elite standard work, within strict timescales, is essential.

After receiving the Sport England Type 7 Certification for the successful delivery of the natural turf in-field at the Alexander Stadium, White Horse Contractors began the removal of the top soil and turf surface on the in-field and started preparing the stadium for the Opening Ceremony. Protective matting was laid in anticipation for the 5,000 athletes and broadcasters from around the world to descend into the vicinity and just 10 hours after the last person exited the complex post-ceremony, our experienced team arrived and began working within the immovable deadline and timescale of just 24 hours, to re-turf the whole 7,860m2 area. Our team worked tirelessly until the last roll was laid at 10:30pm, 8 hours before the deadline, and successfully returned the pitch back to its elite standard ready for competition.
White Horse Contractors team celebrating after the last roll was laid and the rapid re-turfing project was successfully completed!
White Horse Contractors worked alongside S&C Slatter to design and construct a first-class athletics track infield facility as part of the extensive redevelopment at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium. This global-interest project features two advanced athletics tracks with natural grass infields, with an additional practice throwing area. The facility has been certified with a World Athletics Class 1 Athletics Facility Certificate and a Sport England Type 7 natural turf in-field, following an independent assessment. Since the finale of the Commonwealth Games, the facility proved consistently its ability to deliver to the International standard of competition, and has since been selected as the host venue for the European Athletics Championships in 2026.

    Key Achievements

    • Successful completion of Sport England Type 7 Natural Turf in-field

    • Successful completion of two Sport England Type 5 Natural turf practice fields

    • Removal and recycling of upper soil and turf layer in preparation for the opening ceremony

    • Stadium protection boarding laid for over 5,000 athletes attending the opening ceremony

    • Working within tight timescale and successfully delivered the pitch back to elite level play within 14 hours

Expertise and capabilities

The project benefitted from the in-house expertise across The Slatter Group., with the design team delivering the vision for the track and field athletics complex and our construction experts delivering the facilities. White Horse Contractors bought their natural sportsturf expertise and capabilities to the project, and delivered the outstanding Sport England Type 7 natural turf stadium infield, as well as two Sport England Type 5 natural turf fields for the warm up track and throws area, completing this exceptional new facility.

Despite the multitude of difficulties posed by the Commonwealth Games' fixed deadline: materials shortages; shipping delays; the global pandemic; and the unreliable British weather conditions, the project was triumphantly completed and officially handed over in early May 2022.

However, White Horse Contractors had a further part to play to ensure the Games could begin!

Preparing for the opening ceremony

With the Commonwealth Games historic opening ceremony one of the big talking points pre-Games, it was imperative that the track and infield were suitably prepared for the almost 5,000 athletes descending into the Alexander Stadium for the opening ceremony. Many sporting arenas are now able to rapidly convert their playing surface from one sport to another, for music concerts and even festivals. This is often done by constructing a temporary platform above the pitch using specialist protection boards.

With the immovable deadline of the 29th July 2022, White Horse Contractors began by removing the upper turf and soil layer to a controlled depth of 25mm, 6-weeks before the Opening Ceremony date. By using lasers guided plant and machinery to deliver precise and accurate levelling, White Horse Contractors successfully removed all the grass from the playing surface. The pitch was then covered with protection boards in readiness for the set for the Opening Ceremony and the famous athletes’ parade.

A triumph of workmanship

Immediately following the conclusion of the spectacular Opening Ceremony on the Friday night, White Horse Contractors arrived at the Stadium in the early hours of Saturday morning to begin their carefully programmed works. The protection boards and all the Opening Ceremony paraphernalia had been cleared to allow access to the track infield. White Horse Contractors were allowed a strict and narrow window of just 24-hours to re-turf the entire track in-field before the Games began just 48-hours later.

With the first of 26 lorry-loads of specially grown turf arriving at 08:00am, and the entire project team watching, the White Horse Contractors team worked within a very tight timescale to deliver the entire pitch back to elite level play by Monday morning. The challenge was made all the greater by the very difficult logistics of working within a stadium bowl to overcome, numerous other trades working in close proximity and secure regulations to manage.

The turf used to re-surface the in-field was harvested just 5-hours before arriving at the Alexander Stadium, having been transported from the Lincolnshire turf farm where it had been specifically grown for the Games. The new thick-cut turf was expertly laid with precision with the support of our supply chain partners, County Turf and project managed by our Contracts Manager, Tom Iles.

Let the games begin

"Our team worked tirelessly until the last roll of turf was laid at 10:30pm on the same day, just 14-hours after operations commenced. A triumph of good organisation, project management and can-do attitudes ensured high quality workmanship was delivered at record breaking pace!"

Tom Iles, Contracts Manager, White Horse Contractors

The brand new in-field was ready for the remaining Games preparations to continue on the Sunday, with the arrival and set-up of all the broadcasting units and sports equipment before the athletes compete on Day 1. As the newest – and one of just 4 – of these certified WA Cat 1 facilities in the UK, aided by the success of the Commonwealth Games and the Athletics Diamond League in 2022, the Alexander Stadium is continuing to succeed and will be bringing athletes to Birmingham for years to come - with the stadium selected to host the European Athletics Championships in 2026. White Horse Contractors are continuing their close working relationship with the stadium team through an ongoing maintenance contract, and will continue to ensure that the natural grass in-fields remain to their high standards.
White Horse Contractors are immensely proud to have completed this rapid-pitch conversion at The Alexander Stadium for Birmingham City Council, working within the tight timescale and performance standards expected when hosting a major international championship. The successful delivery of works supported the wider team in the success of the Commonwealth Games and the legacy it has left within Birmingham.

For more information call 01865 736272 or email whc@whitehorsecontractors.co.uk