The response by the Grounds Management Association (GMA) to the Government consultation on its 'New Strategy for Sport' includes calls for the introduction of a national framework for grading natural turf pitches and for the Sportsmatch scheme to be accelerated and extended to include sports turf suppliers.
By assessing playing surfaces, all stakeholders would then have a realistic benchmark for pitch quality combined with an objective framework for appropriate levels of training and education that would result in more effective maintenance routines to help improve playing surfaces.
“Improvements in pitch quality, especially at grassroots level, would then enable more fixtures to take place and therefore encourage increased participation at all age groups and across all sports,” says chief executive Geoff Webb in the GMA’s submission to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
He adds: “Parks should be the lifeblood of participation and activity, and new and improved maintenance routines arrangements can breathe new life into local community pitches – of which there are more than 33,000 in England alone – that have been left redundant for too long.
“The GMA accepts the provision of synthetic turf but also argues that the year-on-year investment made in natural turf should rise and be more widely promoted than is currently the case.
“Natural turf technology has moved on rapidly since the stereotypical mud baths of the 1970s, and Government and the national governing bodies of sport must acknowledge both this and the fact that education is key to promoting the benefits of natural turf.
Commenting that the Government’s Sportsmatch scheme was highly successful in encouraging sponsorship for grassroots sports and new participation, Geoff also adds: “The GMA would like to see the scheme accelerated and for sports turf suppliers to be included so that clubs can access kit and equipment to help towards better pitch preparation.
“The provision of better playing surfaces will only help increase the health and wellbeing of every participant.
“We have an expert turf care industry where companies can offer a wide range of alternatives and any scheme should not be restricted to preferred suppliers.
“Combined with blended learning (the GMA has continually updated its learning platform to include online modules, interactive platform level qualifications and practical training), this would really help establish the foundations for increased pitch playability and usage.”