13th May 2020, 13:58 | therfl

Grounds Management Association urges fresh focus on the improvement of grass pitches for sport

Grounds Management Association urges fresh focus on the improvement of grass pitches for sport

The RFL is backing a new report from the Grounds Management Association urging a fresh focus on the improvement of grass pitches for sport.

Rugby League clubs at all levels are able to draw on the GMA’s expertise and practical advice, which has continued throughout the current suspension – and the GMA are stressing the enforced absence of sport provides an opportunity to reflect, and act, on making improvements for the future.

“After a season of no sport, now is the time to ensure pitches are playable when games resume,” says Geoff Webb, the Chief Executive of the GMA.

“We know that if we act now, we can turn the tide and even improve access to local grass pitches. But, without immediate long-term investment and care, the huge benefits of sport for mental and physical health, community cohesion and the economy, will be lost to millions every year.”

Webb highlighted the importance of attracting young people to volunteer or pursue a career in ground management.

“While play isn’t currently happening, we’re urging people to get involved and contact local teams right now. The whole nation – government, sports bodies and members of the public who love sport – must help kick start sport as we are freed from restrictions. Sports turf volunteers and professionals are key to having surfaces ready for play, beyond this season of no sport. Through investing in local pitches, valuing the role ground staff play, encouraging more volunteering, or promoting careers in the profession, we can get more people playing sport than ever before.

“The skill of groundstaff, be they paid professionals or volunteers, and the crucial part they play in enabling sport to take place, must be recognised. Almost every professional sports player in the UK began by playing on a community pitch. And every community pitch across the UK, relies on volunteers or professional grounds staff to maintain it. Alongside all the benefits they bring to individuals, teams, and the local community – it’s crucial to invest time and money in our pitches right now so we can all get back to play.”

Jason Booth, the Director of Technical and Learning who previously worked at Emerald Headingley with Leeds Rhinos, added: “We have around 56,891 rugby union and league, football, and cricket pitches in England today. That’s one pitch for every 984 people. While pitch improvement programmes such as GaNTIP [the Grounds and Natural Turf Investment Programme] are making huge strides, more needs to be done to support grassroots sports and increase playability. With the right approach we can reduce cancellations, increase year round participation, engage new participants and promote active lifestyles.”

The report also found that the pitch crisis has already had a detrimental effect on women and children’s sports. GMA’s research found that despite the growing popularity of women and girls’ sports teams, and junior play priority is often given to adult male teams. 

55% of girls aged 7-18, and over a quarter of adult women, would play more team sports if they could, but there often isn’t the chance to due to slot availability or allocation. 58% of adults and 73% of children see more boys and men play local team sports than women and girls.

The research found that pitches play an important role in our communities, for both children and adults. 57% of adults think playing local team sports is a fundamental national pastime, and over half (54%) think having teams play sport locally has a positive impact on their area.

A quarter of British children aged 7-18 think playing team sports locally is good for their communities and 64% want more grass pitches in their area.

GMA is therefore calling for people to enter the profession, either as volunteers or professionals, to increase participation levels in our local communities.

Despite the enthusiasm for local grounds, many young people aren’t entering the grounds management profession, and one in five grounds managers will be leaving the profession in the next 10 years, leading to a perfect storm when it comes to pitch care. Only 19% of children are currently considering a job in grounds management. This means the UK does not have the workforce to stop the crisis.

Whilst play is currently restricted, it’s possible to sign-up with local teams and take specialist online training, to start the volunteering journey right now. Find out more here: www.thegma.org.uk/learning