Are poor sports pitches and facilities playing their part in drop in participation numbers?

Shaw Cross Sharks under 16 girls rugby team in Dewsbury regularly have to clear their pitch of dog mess before training sessions
Shaw Cross Sharks under 16 girls rugby team in Dewsbury regularly have to clear their pitch of dog mess before training sessions

Councils in West Yorkshire insist they are doing everything they can after concerns that dilapidated sports pitches are putting people off getting active.

Amateur football and rugby coaches across the region believe the poor condition of facilities is resulting in a drop in participation, and say improvements are needed quickly.

A muddy goalmouth at Lane Head in Brighouse

A muddy goalmouth at Lane Head in Brighouse

Vice chairman Sal Habib has been involved in the Wakefield District and Sunday League for over 40 years and thinks facilities have only got worse.He said: “The state of the changing/shower facilities and the playing fields have significantly deteriorated over the years - more so council owned pitches despite their gallant efforts within their ever-decreasing budget.“Players now choose to play in more indoor leagues - better playing surfaces and changing facilities would enhance local football continue to survive.”

In Dewsbury, the Shaw Cross Sharks under 16 girls rugby team regularly have to clear their pitch of dog mess before training sessions at Bywell Fields.

Their coach Andrew Fawkes said: “As far as dog mess is concerned it’s appalling. It’s like a minefield of dog mess.

“It’s such a shame as this is used by lots of local football and rugby teams and local children playing on the fields.

Snow and mud covered football pitch at Luddendenfoot

Snow and mud covered football pitch at Luddendenfoot

“We must spend the first 15 minutes of training having a walk out to pick up dog litter before training. One week we picked up 15 bags from half a rugby field. All our community should treat these areas as sacred places for our children to exercise and enjoy being outdoors and it only takes seconds of personal responsibility from dog owners to pick up after their dog’s to make this happen.

“Sport offers so much more to children than physical fitness - it’s brilliant to support mental well-being in a world where mental health is becoming more prominent in young people.”

Andrew Dawson, who is secretary of Halifax Sunday League side Old Pond FC, faces similar problems.

“Dog fouling is a big problem,” he said. “My Sunday morning tasks at Lane Head start with clearing the pitch of dog waste; I do the best I can, but matches are regularly halted by the referee whilst dog foul is removed. There is a lot of dilapidation at council run facilities; they are out of date and in need of renovation, but the money isn’t there.

Trinity Academy 3G pitch.

Trinity Academy 3G pitch.

“Participation is dropping partly due to poor pitches and facilities, but because of that, revenues are less and so improvements are even harder to fund. The pitches don’t seem to have any Summer remedial works anymore; the goalmouths at Lane Head are getting more and more eroded every year - the keepers will be stood in a ditch soon!

“We only get our pitches marked out once at the start of the season. The clubs then have to maintain the line marking themselves, whilst some pitches barely have markings.”

Julie Russell, Wakefield Council’s Service Director for Arts, Culture and Leisure, said: “Playing sport supports people’s physical and mental health and local sports clubs also play a vital part in helping to bring communities together.

“We also work and support partners such as schools and private sector clubs to open access to their pitches to the community.

Kettlethorpe High School's floodlit 3G pitches in Wakefield are used by the school for games and various other clubs for training.

Kettlethorpe High School's floodlit 3G pitches in Wakefield are used by the school for games and various other clubs for training.

“An example of this work in action is that we will shortly be creating new facilities, two new five-a-side pitches at Featherstone sports centre later this year and have included a full size 3g pitch as part of the Five Towns Health and Wellbeing Hub, which is currently being built at Pontefract Park, to meet the demand for practice and playing facilities.”

A spokesperson for Kirklees council said: “Dog owners have a clear responsibility to clean up after their animals.

“There are signs to remind people that dog fouling is not allowed and, as we cannot patrol every sports pitch in Kirklees, it is vitally important that the signs are respected.

“Council pitches are maintained in line with national guidelines, which include grass cutting and pitch markings, but we also ask people to play their role in keeping our environment healthy and green for everyone.”

Calderdale Council’s Cabinet Member for Communities and Neighbourhood Services, Coun Susan Press, said: “We know how important it is to have quality sports facilities and we do all we can to ensure they are well maintained.

“We have produced a Playing Pitch Strategy with Sport England and the national governing bodies of sport.

“This identifies areas for improvement and drives where we target investment and seek external funding. We have also created a Calderdale Football Facilities Plan with West Riding County FA and in consultation with local clubs and leagues. We are also working with the FA on a potential pitch improvement pilot, and we’re developing proposals for new 3G artificial pitches with training and playing venues.”