Posts

Breaking news.. Widnes to play on artificial rugby pitch

Widnes Vikings have revealed they will literally break new ground when they return to Super League next season, by playing on an artificial grass pitch.

The club say the surface – known as the ‘i-pitch’ – will be installed at the Stobart Stadium in time for pre-season training in December and will be used for Super League games.

Widnes have also revealed surprising plans to offer the pitch for community use on weekdays between games which could include five-a-side soccer leagues. The Vikings have added they are working with the RFL and the pitch manufacturers to ensure it meets the required standards for rugby league.

Steve O’Connor, Vikings Chairman said: “This is a first, not just for the Vikings or rugby league but for sport as a whole.

“The i-pitch at Stobart Stadium Halton will modernise the game and create a fantastic match day experience. Our members and visitors will be able to see more games, it will create a pathway for our young players and it will be utilised as a community resource.

“We are working with our partners at Halton Borough Council and have exciting plans to transform the i-pitch into a 7-a-side football sports facility throughout the week. This will generate income for the club and the stadium”.

O’Connor added, “It is my vision for people to be able to ‘keep on the grass’ after the game and enjoy community and family/fun activities.

“It is absolute nonsense to have a stadium and not be able to access the pitch for 90% of the time.

“Denis Betts and the team have been training regularly on a similar surface over the last few weeks and we have received some great feedback. We need to dispel the myth of grass burns and safety issues, technology has vastly improved in recent years and this simply doesn’t happen! It will also reduce the risks of cancellation through frozen pitches.”

The benefits of synthetic turf within urban communities

Throughout London, there are many full-size synthetic turf pitches which provide durable all-year quality playing conditions with simple maintenance requirements. Synthetic turf when used in urban areas provides a cost-effective means of making multiple sporting/leisure activities including football, rugby and field hockey, accessible to urban communities. This case study will highlight the social, community and economic benefits of synthetic turf.

Sport can be seen as an excellent driver of life skills; bringing together communities. Sports and activity clubs are a strong means of developing an inclusive collective identity within communities. When sport is utilised as a driver of playful and educational activity; it can unlock and breakdown barriers such as class, ethnicity and technical ability.

However, access to dedicated sporting facilities can be limited and the potential to support community development is reduced. Due to urbanisation, access to green spaces diminishes as one moves towards inner-city areas, whilst economic pressures influence local authority expenditure with investment in local sporting/athletic infrastructure, one area that is often sacrificed.

Recent years have seen the development of community trusts and foundations created by local authorities and professional sporting clubs. These foundations and trusts are empowered to facilitate community development, social inclusion and promotion of healthy living and well-being through sport. Synthetic turf is a major contributing factor in making many sports more accessible for all.

Sport for All – The social benefits

Whilst sport is relatively elitist or exclusive at the professional level[1], given the nature of the individual and competitive approach, it is a powerful means of encouraging teamwork offering the opportunity to develop social skills at the community level[2]. Chelsea FC are one of many Premier League clubs who have set up foundations (Chelsea FC Foundation) that deliver community-focused projects through a number of mechanisms which are supported by the use of synthetic turf pitches.

With the current economic recession, living standards in the UK have become ever more challenging with rising unemployment, reductions in welfare benefits and rising costs of basic commodities translating into tough times for many families. For the younger generation, the challenges of upward mobility and social integration are hard felt, with some parts of inner-city communities showing signs of civil unrest, as seen during the August 2011 riots in London. There is a greater need, now more than ever, for youth to be provided with opportunities to further develop their sense of community responsibility and individual and group social skills. Using sports participation as a means of communicating powerful messages, The Chelsea FC Foundation delivers educational projects that tie in with contemporary policy initiatives such as anti-knife crime and ‘Kick It Out’s’ anti-racism campaign.

In addition to the social benefits mentioned above, The Chelsea FC Foundation, also aims to improve participation levels of groups that have a relatively lower representation within sport. With their own infrastructure of synthetic turf facilities across London, they look to increase the number of female, Asian and disabled members of communities who are active in sport. This is in line with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation’s (UNESCO) agenda promoting sport as universally inclusive with a particular focus on female participation and those with a disability.

With particular reference to those with disabilities, synthetic turf is a functional tool that enables easier participation in many team sports, Disability sports work towards breaking down physical and mental barriers to participation and can also be a delivery tool of identity development, creating a collective norm that rejects stereotypes.

A positive Influence for youth – Crime reduction

Since the award of the Olympic Games to London in 2012, London has been actively looking for sport to play a proactive part in increasing community spirit and goodwill[3]. With sports broad appeal and popularity, it is an excellent means of offering empowerment, team spirit and the collective being that is at the heart of many communities. Utilising synthetic turf facilities within London, the Chelsea FC Foundation works in partnership with Kickz, the volunteer-led taskforce of the Premier League. Kickz works towards tackling community issues through the power of sport, so aiding community development and contributing to crime reduction. Since its creation, the Kickz partnership has found that over 1900 of its participants continue to support projects as volunteers[4]. Local level crime and anti-social behaviour crimes have been reduced by up to 50%[5]; this has been partly attributed to the work of Kickz.

There are a number of reasons as to why these projects are helping reduce crime; the first being that offering sports to youths within urban areas preoccupies them from potentially more anti-social behaviour, secondly, sport facilitates positive recreational activities and encourages teamwork[6]. This can be partly attributed to the availability of synthetic turf facilities that are used throughout the projects within Inner London.

Synthetic turf – The efficient solution

As previously mentioned, an inhibitor of active sport within London is the lack of free or low-cost sports facilities available to members of inner London communities. Synthetic turf sports surfaces are multi-functional, thus diminishing the need for vast expanses of space to cater for multiple audiences. Not only in London but throughout Europe, synthetic turf is providing urban communities the opportunity to play on a surface that possesses characteristics so close to natural turf that research indicates that the difference in play is minimal[7].

Synthetic turf also provides a sport facility that is lower in cost to maintain, when compared with a natural grass solution. This is primarily due to the fact that there is no requirement to crop/mow a synthetic turf installation[8].

In summary, the use of synthetic turf sports facilities within an urban community offers multiple benefits. It allows sports-related community projects, such as The Chelsea FC Foundation and Kickz, to achieve their objectives and improve participation levels of females, ethnic minorities and those with disabilities in sports activities. It also allows for them to attract a captive audience to which they can deliver messages about specific campaigns such as anti-racism and knife crime. Synthetic turf within London encourages team sports, allowing for youths to form a greater understanding of the ability of team work and the power team work has in achieving results. It also allows municipalities the opportunity to offer communities a sports facility that is cost-effective and multi-functional.

[1] Kaufman and Wolff (2010), Playing and Protesting; Sport as a Vehicle for Social Change, Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Issue 34, Vol. 2, p154-175

[2] Donnelly, P. (1993),  Democratization revisited: Seven theses on the democratization of sport and active leisure, Society and Leisure, Vol. 16, p413-434

[3] Carmichael, D. (2008), Youth Sport vs. Youth Crime

[4] The Kickz Organisation, http://www.premierleague.com/page/Kickz

[5] Ibid

[6] Carmichael, D. (2008), Youth Sport vs. Youth Crime

[7] The European Synthetic Turf Organisation (2010), https://www.estc.info/synthetic_turf/benefits.html

[8] Ibid