Grassroots sport in chaos as heatwave leaves pitches too dangerous to play on

Grassroots sport in chaos as heat wave leaves pitches too dangerous to play on - GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Grassroots sport in chaos as heat wave leaves pitches too dangerous to play on – GEOFF ROBINSON PHOTOGRAPHY

Grassroots sports faces are thrown into chaos by an unprecedented heatwave that has made many playing fields too dangerous to use.

The new amateur rugby season is particularly under threat, with the Rugby Football Union poised to implement emergency measures, including more non-contact training and greater use of plastic pitches.

But many pre-season games are already being canceled due to rock-hard surfaces, and fears are growing that the leagues in the south-east – those worst affected by the hot weather – are now badly delayed.

Dried-out pitches are also a growing concern in other sports, including football and cricket, as health experts warn that players are at serious risk of injury.

John Ashton, the former director of public health in the North West, warned the sport was entering “uncharted territory” in terms of safety risks, with head injuries and concussions of particular concern.

As a result, Headway, the brain injury charity, has called on all sporting authorities to provide “urgent guidance to grassroots clubs to prevent an increase in concussions as a result of playing on hard pitches”.

“Many concussions are sustained from head-on collisions, but the harder the ground, the more likely it is that a concussion will occur from a fall or tackle that results in the head hitting the pitch,” said the charity’s Luke Griggs. CEO.

Progressive Rugby, the lobby group that calls for better protection for players, also expressed support for competitions to be delayed to allow pitches to soften up.

Rugby chiefs told Telegraph Sport they were “monitoring the situation closely” as reports emerged of clubs being forced to postpone matches scheduled for this weekend with the heatwave warning set to extend until at least Sunday. and little rain in the south for the rest of the month.

The RFU’s director of rugby development Steve Grainger said: “The RFU is very concerned about the impact of the heat and lack of rain on natural grass pitches at community clubs, which could affect players returning to contact rugby in September.

“We are looking at scenarios to help that include maximizing the use of artificial pitches [including the 28 owned and operated by the RFU] and promote greater use of non-contact forms of the game.”

Chaos in community sports stands in stark contrast to conditions in the elite of the game. Several Premier League clubs told Telegraph Sport that they have continued to water their pitches and training facilities uninterrupted, as there have been no instructions from the top flight to stop doing so.

However, governing bodies across football, rugby and cricket said there were “huge geographical variations” across the grassroots.

Football pitches at Hackney Marshes have dried up - PA

Football pitches at Hackney Marshes have dried up – PA

Hayes CC groundsman John Clapshoe has a tough job in difficult conditions - GETTY IMAGES

Hayes CC groundsman John Clapshoe has a tough job in difficult conditions – GETTY IMAGES

The South East seems to be suffering significantly more than the rest of the country with the state of pitches. The Surrey Rugby Reserve League – which is not run by the RFU – is already understood to have postponed the start of the campaign until October.

In football, the local Kent FA, meanwhile, has urged clubs to cut back on water use where possible, but there are no known leagues considering deferrals as it stands.

Andrea McMahon, of the Ground Management Association, insisted the sustained spell of warm weather was not yet “creating us a problem”. However, she added: “We need to keep a very close eye on this and really have some advice to hand.”

Questions and answers: The heatwave’s impact on grassroots sport explained

By Tom Morgan and Ben Rumsby

With temperatures again in the mid-30C this week, grassroots sport – and the football and rugby calendar in particular – is heading into what public health experts describe as “uncharted territory”. Here Telegraph Sport tries to answer some of the main questions:

Why is the heat wave dangerous for grassroots sport?

While most professional clubs benefit from stadium sprinkler systems, council and amateur clubs’ pitches are rock solid across England and Wales. Cash-strapped clubs can take measures – such as increasing water breaks – to mitigate the effects of the heat on players, but there is little that can be done about the playing surfaces.

“When you see these terrible fights in the city and somebody gets punched and they end up dead, it’s never the punch that kills them, it’s the head on the ground,” said Tom Morris, of Progressive Rugby, a player safety lobby group. “Obviously it’s a concern if you’re effectively playing on a concrete base.”

Luke Griggs, chief executive of Headway – the brain injury charity – adds: “Many concussions are sustained from head-on collisions, but the harder the ground, the more likely it is that a concussion will occur in a fall or tackle resulting in that the head hits the pitch.

“Without the luxury of sprinkler systems used in elite level sport, many community pitches across the UK would currently be as hard as concrete.”

Which sports are most affected?

Rugby – and to a lesser extent football – looks set to face major disruption in the coming weeks, particularly in the south-east. Some competitions are meeting with the Rugby Football Union on Monday to discuss their options.

“A lot of clubs are keen to play so if there are any delays they could be match-by-match,” said a source close to the talks. “Any delay will have to go through government approval which will take a few days. What needs to be emphasized is the regional variation… therefore a blanket delay is not the right approach.”

A FA source added that “we are monitoring the situation closely”. However, Kenny Saunders of the “Save Grass Roots” football campaign expressed concern that low-level players are less able to cope with the heat than professionals.

“When the pitches are rock hard, if they drop and they jump to head a ball and they land hard, they’re going to potentially break or dislocate something,” he said. “Those who play on artificial pitches, they play in twice as much heat. When the sun shines down on the rubber pieces, there is enormous heat there.”

What solutions are proposed?

Clubs are also encouraged to consider the use of crash mats in some circumstances to ensure players receive adequate full contact preparation.

The teams also develop strategies to deal with heat exhaustion. Many teams reduce physically intensive training sessions to 15-minute stints, with increased water breaks. However, there is a certain pragmatism in sports, that there is little that can be done about the state of the field.

“Grassroots football is not like the Premier League, where it is watered two, three or four times a day,” Saunders said. “We have to put up with what we have. The municipalities just don’t have the money to maintain grassroots football pitches.”

An artificial cricket pitch on Hackney Marshes is the only patch of green seen - PA

An artificial cricket pitch on Hackney Marshes is the only patch of green seen – PA

Can sports teams water their pitches even if there is a ban on snakes?

Sports successfully lobbied for an exception to the snake ban during a drought ten years ago. For professional sports, “temporary use”, which includes snake bans, does not apply at all.

For the recreational game, rush hour bans may apply, but there is an exception for watering playing surfaces for safety reasons. In Kent, for example, the local FA has issued instructions to clubs telling them that “watering of grass or artificial surfaces may continue for sport or recreation (on the active strip/playing area – not the whole ground) during off-peak hours”.

Irrigation systems, sprinklers or hoses can still be used if the water source is from a private borehole, artificial lake, a well or harvested rainwater. But in most cases grass-roots pitches do not have sprinklers.

How long could this go on?

Blistering temperatures will start to ease at the weekend, but the Met Office has forecast hot, humid and stormy weather for the latter half of August.

Can grass root seasons be delayed until the heat wave is over?

Some rugby competitions in the south-east look set to be delayed. However, the general guidance is that the clubs assess the condition of the pitch on a match-by-match basis.

In the case of both football and rugby, pitches should be assessed by the referee in the same way as when matches are called off due to frozen pitches.

Dr John Ashton, the former director of public health in the North West, said sport was right to resist blanket postponements, avoiding the danger of “falling into becoming a nanny state” on the issue.

“This weather puts us in uncharted territory for grassroots sports, but I’m careful not to be too prescriptive in this case,” said Ashton, who this week receives Bahrain’s “Medal of Medical Merit” for his help during Covid-19.

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