It's time for upgrades, says Grounds Management Association CEO Geoff Webb

Rugby Rant: Community pitches must improve

This has been the year that rugby came grinding to a halt, both at a professional and community level, with many at a loss of what to do without being able to watch or play.

We’re thrilled to have it back and many of us are looking forward to next season, but the pandemic isn’t the only threat to grass-roots rugby. Before Covid-19, the Grounds Management Association (GMA) undertook research that found that the nation’s community pitches are in dire need of attention. Our pitches have been in a state of decline for years due to long-term overplaying, coupled with an increasing demand for pitches.

Currently, 47% of rugby league pitches and 26% of rugby union pitches can only accommodate one match a week. With Covid causing many pitches to
be neglected for months, these figures are likely to get worse, especially with the unpredictable wet weather we’re seeing.

The negative implications of the state of our pitches goes deeper and affects certain groups worse than others, such as women. In union, there has been an 18.5% increase in girls and women registered with clubs in England in the last eight years, but pitch accessibility has failed to keep pace with this.

“Community pitches ensure so many enjoy sport, but they need all the support they can get”

If we act now, we can reverse this trend. Even just a few hours a month spent on local pitches could make a big difference, which is why the GMA is calling on rugby fans to get involved and start volunteering. It’s also important that the younger generation gets involved in caring for our pitches – we know that currently, more than two thirds of community grounds volunteers are over 60 and almost all are over 50.

There is a lot more to grounds management than mowing the grass, so training is vital. Luckily, it’s also readily available; we’ve been working with national governing bodies to support their strategies and provide online training courses for volunteers at  all levels during lockdown – see for details.

Covid highlighted just how important sport is to us. Whether it’s at the top of the game or at a local level, sport is essential, but right now, the community pitches that ensure so many get to enjoy it need all the support they can get.

Change is possible, and with a bit of work we know that almost 1.4m more children could play rugby or other sports on a grass pitch every week.
Getting involved today can make a huge difference in the long term, so  why not become part of a team that makes sport possible?

This article originally appeared in the October 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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