Industry Preview 2010: Turf -- Sector braced for tougher times but confident in sport's resilience

Turf sector professionals are bracing for another difficult year in 2010, with all public sector eyes focused on the outcome of the election.

Institute of Groundsmanship chief executive Geoff Webb said people would still be tightening their belts and that it would be a year of careful economy. "Once the battle lines are drawn by the political parties, then we can asses what the impact will be on the industry.

"The public sector always comes under the microscope at times like these. I think a lot of groundsmen are optimistic though."

Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) head of stadia Richard Hayden was more bullish about the prospects for 2010, saying many of the signs were good.

"Sport is more resilient than people think," he said. "We do a lot of work with international associations and they are telling us gate receipts are up. People still want to go out and play and see games. The FA said it had the biggest crowds since 1992 over the New Year weekend. We are quite optimistic. We are even hiring at the moment."

He added that synthetics would continue to grow in 2010, predicting that all sports would see them in a more positive light after the recent bad weather.

This view was echoed by Manchester City FC grounds manager Roy Rigby. He said: "I think people will be looking at fibre elastic products. It seems from what I have felt that it is very player-friendly. I know a lot of clubs are looking at it. It makes it more spongy so I think that will be something for the near future. I think it's the way forward."

He also noted the importance of under-floor heating in training grounds, saying some clubs could be forced to practice on stadium pitches because of the exceptionally cold weather.

Cranfield University lecturer Dr Iain James, who heads the Centre for Sports Surface Technology, highlighted the growth of environmental practices and a continuing need to get the most out of restrictive budgets.

Barenbrug research and development manager Jayne Leyland struck a cautious note, predicting unpredictability. "Much like the bad weather, predictions as to when the recession will end vary — a good summer and brighter economic climate could make this an excellent year for our sector. But if the extreme weather persists and, as some predict, the recession continues until winter, then it will be a difficult 12 months."

But the STRI's Hayden ended on a note of optimism: "There are not too many contractors going bust at the moment. A lot have had to trim staff but overall it's potentially maybe a bit more resilient than other areas of horticulture at the moment. I'm quite optimistic. We have been here since 1928 and we have weathered a lot of storms, so I see no reason why we won't weather this one."


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