The Groundsman

November 2014

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AHEAD OF THE GAME 33 the Groundsman November 2014 Visit www.iog.org for more information and digital editions Now it is 70 hours a week. But talking to some very experienced ground staff at various sites, it appears that the figure could be as low as 35 hours if optimum standards are to be maintained. In the UK, the reduction in capital and revenue budgets throughout the last 20 years has meant that the reliance and access to money has been largely through Lottery funding with the income generated by TV revenues being added to the facility strategies. Sports NGBs compile four-year plans and bid for funding via the Sports Councils, which themselves are not immune to cuts as many discovered during the last round of applications. So, there is less funding than ever available and it's little wonder why facilities fail. But where should the available budget be placed? Public sector football is a major problem: grassroots rely on public pitches for around 80 per cent of provision. Decades of under investment, coupled with no statutory service and a lack of a common standard or framework for natural turf are all holding back the advancements that have been made. Instead of shining examples of good practice, the media simply portrays the bad, the flooded pitches that could so easily be improved. In terms of football, the UK has the world's most successful professional football league and natural turf surfaces combined with hybrid pitches and the like contribute greatly to this success - as well as to the experience for both players and supporters alike. Skilled multi-surface management Where natural turf has been replaced, questions need to be asked: What was the approach to management of the pitches? Why did they fail? Is it due to lack of groundsmanship skills? Is the groundsman being trained? and, more importantly, does he have a voice in the strategic boardroom decision making process? What chance do groundsmen have if they are not backed by the club and supported with the appropriate budgets and investment? Synthetic turf is not going away and our existing (and next) generation of groundsmen have to be experts at managing all types of surfaces. The IOG's job is to provide education and training to ensure surfaces are maintained well, and to advocate the role of the groundsman as a prerequisite for all-round success. The recent BBC study into the wealth of funds within football highlighted the amount of money spent on players' wages, but what's the going wage for a groundsman? And how many clubs at Division 2 and below employ a full-time groundsman? The IOG stands by the standards of natural turf pitches and the skill of groundsmen – many of whom are IOG members - in producing top class playing surfaces at all levels of the game. The potential of natural turf should not be consigned to the dustbin. Turf can do more, turf is great and players enjoy playing on it. This message needs to be broadcast loud and clear. The turf industry needs to up its game and present itself in a new and dynamic way. The industry must join together with the IOG to present natural turf in the best possible way and to shout from the rooftops how advances have made our stadia surfaces the envy of the world. The IOG is deeply concerned for the many excellent groundsmen working in professional sport whose future jobs and careers could be at risk given recent decisions. We have advanced greatly in recent years the profile of groundsmanship in the UK, but there is a danger that skills will be lost. Groundsmanship is at the heart of sport and the way in which pitches are now maintained is testament to the skill and dedication of the modern day grounds managers and the many volunteer groundsmen who are adept at changing and responding to conditions in all weathers, embracing new technology and innovation to get the game on. We have the best, most skilled groundsmen in the world. We also have a multi-billion pound industry ranging from seed suppliers to chemical companies and from machinery companies to advisors and consultants. All can help improve the quality and provision of our playing surfaces, and with circa 20,000 football pitches in England alone, The FA needs to embrace those who can help through good practice to demonstrate that natural turf playing times can be increased. Players have certainly not made any representations to say they are unhappy with grass pitches. Indeed, the Professional Footballers' Association has already issued a statement highlighting concerns with the recent Football League announcement about synthetic pitches. The players continue to express a preference for natural turf, and even FIFA's Quality Programme website states that "artificial turf is the best alternative to natural grass". Alternative - not better - and therein lies the rub. l Cricket is increasingly adopting artificial turf wickets

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