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IOG Conference highlights shifting challenges for today’s groundsmen

The IOG conference this week saw the announcement of substantial new funding for pitch advisors to improve grass roots playing facilities in the UK. The IOG is working with the ECB, Rugby League and Football Foundation among others to add eight regional advisors and is actively recruiting now. Sport England CEO Jennie Price briefed the audience on sport participation in the UK and the quango’s targets to get more high-class pitches to facilitate team sports, especially football. In doing so, she kicked off a running debate concerning the best way to achieve this – natural or synthetic pitches.

IOG members were entertained by a series of interviews conducted by Radio 5 Live’s Mark Clemmit (pictured left interviewing Tottenham Hotspur’s Head Groundsman Darren Baldwin). Head Groundsman and former IOG award winner Colin Calderwood gave the inside story on his ‘transfer’ to Parc des Princes from Villa Park.

The panel discussion about synthetic turf brought out facts and figures to help the debate but also members’ passion for natural turf and concerns about a lack of knowledge amongst sport administrators when comparing synthetic and natural capabilities. IOG CEO Geoff Webb challenged the natural turf industry to get its message across and to further develop the characteristics – mainly playing hours and durability – that sports facilities are looking for in natural turf fields.

When it comes to durability, Dicks Sporting Goods Park in Colorado is an example of multiple community fields offering high usage in various sports in extreme weather conditions, mainly on natural turf. Phil McQuade, Assistant Turf Manager at the facility (and STMA member), showed snow clearance and recovery from heavy rain downpour that defied belief. Snow threatens play in Spring while temperatures topping 100 degrees Fahrenheit aren’t uncommon in the summer months. McQuade showed how machinery, relentless documentation and analysis, and very hard work overcome the weather to get professional and amateur games played to schedule.

Gethin Jenkins, Head of Event Delivery for Rugby World Cup 2015, used the conference to begin a listening exercise with groundsmen in the stadiums and training centres which will support the world’s third largest sporting tournament. The tournament is renting large capacity soccer stadiums such as Wembley and Etihad, plus the London Olympic Stadium, to provide 2.3m seats. Groundsmen may find themselves putting on a Champions League or League Cup game in the same week as a World Cup rugby match and meeting the needs of both sports is looking like a formidable challenge. The conference demonstrated that solving such problems is the regular responsibility of groundsmen in the UK and across the world.