Last week we ran an article on how a number of high profile female footballers, such as Abby Wambach, had signed a petition to stand against FIFA making them play the World Cup next year on artificial grass. (Grass Maybe Greener But is it Grass? ). In that same article we stated how many administrators in Australia believe that artificial pitches are the way forward for the game in Australia, a move that makes perfect sense with the heat and the water shortages.
To back this up in New South Wales, it was recently announced that the Sutherland Shire Council was “to contribute up to $5 million for sports infrastructure development, with a further $3 million coming from project partners, sporting clubs and associations for the installation of synthetic playing and training sports fields across the Shire.”
They claim that the trend to upgrade football pitches to artificial surfaces has peaked in the last year. Local grassroots and state league clubs in the shire such as the Sydney United Sports Centre, Lambert Park, Hensley Athletic Field, Lilys Football Centre, Blacktown Football Park and Arlington Oval have all made the change.
Sutherland Shire is renowned statistically for having the largest participation figures for any local football association in the Southern Hemisphere, so this is a major move, by a key football hotbed.
The Sutherland Shire Football Association General Manager Jeff Stewart who welcomes the influx of artificial surfaces was recently quoted as saying, “This is a great initiative by Sutherland Shire Council. Sutherland is an extremely active community with very limited field space available for use and absolutely no room to expand. For example, Sutherland Shire Football Association has in excess of 17,600 participants (1,420+ teams) playing football each and every weekend. The toll on the fields is enormous with some fields barely playable by half way through the football season. Council funding these publicly accessible synthetic fields, as the first of what is hopefully many such facilities, will provide an opportunity for football and other like-minded sports to play and train on a superior surface, all year round.”
Seymour Shaw Park home to the Sutherland Sharks who play in the IGA National Premier Leagues NSW competition, were the first team to make the switch to an artificial surface back in 2007. In fact Perth Glory’s youth team played a National Youth League game at the Ground against Sydney FC when the original ground was too water-logged for the game to go ahead.
At the time the club was told that the pitch was expected to get ten years wear, however it is due for an upgrade at the end of this season.
One thing that many people forget when it comes to artificial surfaces is that they too, like grass need maintaining. The extra use puts extra pressure on the surface, and therefore their life is frequently shortened. In many countries where artificial surfaces have been installed the maintenance is not carried out as regularly as required and hence the surface does not last as long as it should. Sometimes the equipment to carry out the maintenance breaks down and the repairs to that machine have been delayed or too costly, so the work is not carried out, and the pitch fails to last the expected lifespan.
There is no doubt artificial pitches have improved drastically in the last ten years and as the Sutherland shire has proved if by having artificial pitches you can indeed accommodate more people playing the game then it makes perfect sense for football to head down this path. With many councils loathe to hand over ovals that have traditionally been used for Australian Rules, football needs to take a new approach.
The Mayor of the Sutherland Shire Steve Simpson backs up such a statement and has himself said that with one in four residents in the southern Sydney local government area registered to play sport locally, a new direction was needed to meet that growing demand for quality sports fields as well as the need to provide all weather facilities. Artificial pitches were the answer.
It may go against the grain of the traditionalists, but it gives football a chance to make playing surfaces available to all who wish to play the game at any time. This could well be the move that helps truly establish football as a top line sport in Australia.