Sports bodies vow to improve turf pitches despite synthetics move

Experts point out that synthetic football pitches require same level of maintenance as real turf.

Natural turf: quality programme
Natural turf: quality programme

The FA and Sport England have pledged to continue working with grounds staff on improving natural turf pitches in the wake of the FA's latest announcement on synthetic pitches.

Chairman Greg Dyke has said the FA wants to increase the number of synthetic pitches by 130 per cent in cities in order to improve the grass-roots game by raising up to £230m from professional clubs, local authorities and Government.

They would be run along with existing pitches by trusts with councils handing over both maintenance funds and responsibility. A pilot scheme was launched by Dyke in Sheffield earlier this month. The FA is also working with other sports governing bodies on a grounds maintenance website.

The FA and Sport England have funded the three-year £1.3m Natural Turf Improvement Programme run by the Institute of Groundsmanship (IoG) that employs professional turf advisers in eight regions to assist and train grass-roots groundsmen. The FA is the biggest of the funders for the programme.

An FA spokesman explained that the Natural Turf Improvement Programme forms part of the FA's wider pitch-improvement programme, which aims to produce better quality grass pitches.

"We have been worried for some time about the quality of natural turf pitches when budgets are being cut annually and sport is not a statutory service," said the FA spokesman. "We are also working to avoid significant increases in charges and the lack of technical expertise to provide the quality of pitches the players expect."

Sport England property director Charles Johnston said both types of pitch have their place in achieving Sport England's aim of getting as many people as possible playing sport.

He said: "We are seeing benefits of this by improving the condition of natural turf pitches as well as increasing the number of artificial grass pitches. The FA's proposals around grass-roots football are at a very early stage but we look forward to contributing to a plan that will help get more people playing football.

"We will work with the IoG to raise the standards of surfaces and to challenge them to produce the investment case for natural grass pitches."

Experts say synthetic pitches require the same maintenance as natural turf - typically one hour for every ten played - but add that synthetic turf is better for high-density areas.

Synthetic pitches - Need for maintenance

A common misconception is that synthetic turf requires little maintenance. But regular attention is vital to ensure optimum playing performance and durability.

The most successful facilities receive maintenance from the start of installation. Indeed, appropriate and approved ongoing maintenance programmes are increasingly stipulated as a prerequisite to uphold the validity of warranties written by the main installers - a factor that has fuelled the design and development of synthetic-turf care equipment.

Regular brushing is key to maintenance for synthetic pitches, complemented by the collection of surface debris before it becomes unsightly or contaminates the fibres.

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