The Groundsman

November 2014

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AHEAD OF THE GAME 32 the Groundsman November 2014 Visit www.iog.org for more information and digital editions here is no doubt that the synthetic turf sector has been very successful in making the case for artificial playing surfaces. Football, rugby, hockey, cricket and bowls all now embrace modern technology. Synthetic turf has altered significantly since the '80s and is a much improved product. But so, too, has natural turf. The big question now is are we failing as an industry, to get this message across to the decision makers within sports bodies and to the politicians who 'talk up' the playing hours possible on synthetic turf and 'talk down' the playing hours on natural turf? This mindset requires change and we need to present a positive message to challenge such perceptions. Our message has to be that 'turf can do more'. Improving standards We are, through the Grounds & Natural Turf Improvement Programme, discovering the varying levels of understanding of grounds management. There is a lot of scope for T Turf matters: more questions than answers Recent announcements by a variety of sports bodies about synthetic turf have once again put the spotlight on the future of the turf industry and the outlook for groundsmanship By: Geoff Webb improvement. There are examples of good practice where, with good management backed by resources and equipment, the hours of use and the quality of natural surfaces have really improved. These examples need to be promoted. The knowledge and advancement in turf care products and technology has dramatically increased efficiency and costs, and whenever a groundsman is employed the potential for an excellent surface is dramatically improved. It is a real concern that the Football League looks as if it will vote through an amendment to the rules to allow synthetic turf into competition. Indeed, the Rugby Football Union, the International Rugby Board along with FIFA and UEFA have all actively supported the provision of synthetic turf. Even cricket is considering more artificial wickets. These bodies have all spent time developing standards that have emanated from FIFA and UEFA since the early 2000s. Clubs looking to change should weigh up the pros and cons; ignore the marketing and sales messages and look at the facts. There are continuous questions and debate about the virtues or otherwise of synthetic turf. The rubber infill has been a continual issue raised by environmentalists, health practitioners and more recently players - especially goalkeepers, as covered by NBC in the USA. There is a more litigious outlook in the USA where there are various challenges to the products and real concerns, which appear to be rising. Will this follow in the UK? Maintenance issues There are costs associated with the maintenance of an artificial pitch, and I would urge everyone who invests (or is looking to) in synthetic turf to carefully analyse lifecycle costs over the short, medium and long term. A synthetic (or as FIFA advocate 'football turf') pitch will fail if it is not well constructed and well maintained, just as natural turf will. It is a myth that synthetic surfaces are maintenance-free; every surface requires good onsite management and a planned maintenance programme. The current trend to prioritise synthetic pitches is due it appears because of commercial revenue reasons. In the early years of synthetic surfaces, usage claims of over 100 hours a week were made. Grassroots rely on public pitches for around 80% of provision Reinforced pitch maintenance at Aston Villa FC

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