The stark contrast between the huge success of recent major sporting events hosted in the UK - such as this year's Rugby World Cup - and the dwindling fortunes of grass-roots sports was highlighted in the opening debate of last week's IoG Saltex exhibition in Birmingham.
A panel that included the Football Association's Mark Pover, Tim Nicholls from the English Cricket Board, Simon Winman from the Rugby Football Union and Carol Doran of the Rugby Football League agreed that after a string of high-profile successes, raising the standard of grass-roots facilities must be the priority.
Local authorities spend an average of £1,600 per pitch on maintenance each year, compared to the £4,500 the FA recommends.
"Local authority budgets are being cut and the quality of pitches is declining, and that is putting people off," said the FA's Pover. "Our challenge is to reverse that trend and we are looking at the way we invest to use money that is coming into football to go back into football."
The FA has recently partnered with Rigby Taylor to offer discounts on products for grass-roots clubs. It is also developing a new partnership with Sheffield City Council to build 3G pitches to generate income that will be reinvested into improving the council's natural pitches. The programme is to be opened up to other local authorities in 2016.
"We are world leaders in agronomy, the quality of our stadia is great and we are a sports mad country," added Pover. "The problem is people want to replicate the quality of the pitches they see (at major sporting events) and we can't, of course. Our surveys show people want better-quality pitches and the number one thing putting them off the game is the quality of pitches."
The English Cricket Board's Tim Nicholls added that while the surface and quality of the pitch was a critical factor in the recreational game, the issue was also about health and safety. "The pitch should be safe, consistent and something you can rely on," he said.
Pover said the FA is seeking to triple the money it invests in grass-roots: "It has been widely documented that the FA is going through a restructure to cut back on costs so funds can be reinvested in facilities. It is going into 3G development plus more investment in natural turf pitches. I'm talking about additional investment - tripling the money FA is putting into the game."
Rigby Taylor announced at Saltex it has won a four-year contract to become the official supplier to the FA's pitch improvement programme. The company will make grass seed, fertilisers, line-marking paints and machines and other products available to clubs to help them achieve a common quality pitch standard.
The programme is aimed at improving the quality of natural turf pitches across all levels of the game with specialist advice and guidance via site visits, with the opportunity to obtain grants and discounted rates off the recommended machinery and materials required to improve pitches. A website has also been developed with the aim of supporting local groundsmen and volunteers.