Urgent action is needed to ensure sports pitches at grassroots level are in a fit state to meet demand when the Covid-19 crisis is over. A report from the Grounds Management Association has warned the survival of community sport will be at risk if surfaces are not made playable and issued a call for volunteers to help local clubs.
The shutdown of sporting activity since mid-March has exacerbated a problem already causing significant concern. England has 58,891 football, rugby and cricket pitches but many are deteriorating through increased demand and poor maintenance. A return to action is expected to add significantly to the strain given widespread eagerness to play again and the difficulties in tending to pitches while sport has been on hold.
“We’re probably arriving at a tipping point when it comes to sport and volunteers,” the GMA director of technical and learning, Jason Booth, said. “Over the last five years we’ve seen a rise in participation but, when you look at the conditions many pitches are in, the two things don’t marry up. The challenge is to try to get a happy balance.”
If trends persist the GMA believes that over the next decade a fifth of those who play rugby and football will be unable to do so every week, while more than half of grassroots cricketers will see matches reduced.
It points out the implications would surpass a blow to physical fitness levels: its survey of more than 4,000 people found 64% of adults consider playing in a local sports league to be good for mental health and the importance may increase after lockdown.
The report says that with the right investment, guidance and care junior participation in rugby and football could increase by 1.4 million every week, and in cricket by 500,000 a season. Capacity is a problem mentioned throughout, with women’s sport in particular facing supply and demand hurdles.
Grass pitches need to be fit for purpose as a consequence and the GMA hopes people will answer its call, whether as professionals in an industry whose workforce is ageing, or voluntarily. It would like the public to engage with its training mechanisms and offer what time they can to a discipline whose benefits transcend sport.
“The impact is far reaching,” Booth added. “We need young people to come in but, for a pensioner to come out and mark his local pitch with two or three pals, that can be a major tool against loneliness. We want people from all walks of life to provide a service that benefits every aspect of our society.”