5 Do we need the X factor?

Dave SaltmanFinding an online dictionary definition of X-Factor is almost impossible due to a certain mindless TV programme of the same name. However, an extensive search eventually reveals that it is: a hard-to-describe influence or quality; an important element with unknown consequences.

In these difficult times when our industry is as divided as ever I'm wondering if we will ever find our own hard to describe, important element with unknown consequences - the X Factor.

Hard-to-describe

There are three significant organisations 'leading' the turfcare industry; BIGGA, the IOG and Pitchcare. If you disagree with that statement, stop and think about it for a while ... okay, now let's move on.

All are membership driven to one degree or another and all, sadly, appear to be ploughing their own furrow.

It is hard to describe how and why we have got into this mess, but let's give it a go. The IOG is the longest established of the three, being set up seventy-five years ago. It claims a membership of 10,000 online members, but its full paying membership is considerably less.

Next came BIGGA. Set up in 1987 from an amalgam of various regional and international associations, it has a membership of 7,000 including students and other industry folk.

Then came the new kids on the block. Pitchcare was launched in 2001 with an online membership currently in excess of 37,000 across all sectors of the industry.

It goes without saying that many of Pitchcare's members will also be members of their relevant association. And this is the rub. Pitchcare's stated intent is to "unite the turfcare industry and raise its profile" and we have, in no small way, managed to achieve interaction across all sectors.

The IOG and BIGGA entered into discussions three years ago about the possibilities of a united association. After twelve months the discussions broke down with the IOG stating they could find "no common ground" (surely the 'common ground' is that green stuff we call grass). In a recent post on their forum BIGGA Chief Executive, John Pemberton, stated that "talks broke down over where the united organisation should be run from, with neither 'head office' being ideally situated...".

Whatever their reasons, they have chosen not to unite, and now both associations are seriously considering targeting each others membership - yet to be ratified by BIGGA members, whilst the IOG are taking the route of 'surveying' greenkeepers.

Influence

Who are we trying to influence? Is it the membership, Joe Public, the media, the sports governing bodies or the government? In truth, it is a mix of all of those.

Whether we like it or not, turfcare professionals are still perceived as 'cutters of grass'. This is true from the oik watching his favourite football team to the golfer thrashing (or should that be trashing) his way round his home club. Criticism is hurled at groundsmen and greenkeepers by 'knowledgeless' TV commentators and newspaper journalists and their words are taken as gospel by the watching and reading millions.

It is those 'grass cutters' that the industry needs to represent in a more cohesive way.

However, BIGGA represents roughly just one third out of an estimated total of 21,000 greenkeepers in the UK alone. Equally, there are tens of thousands of groundsmen who are not members of the IOG.

So, consider this - by only representing a small section of the industry how can they expect to be taken seriously by outside agencies? How can they exert any influence on Government, on EU directives or even the owners of sports facilities? How can they represent the industry on wage scales or employment issues?

Important element

The important element is the turfcare industry - plain and simple. Write it large - THE TURFCARE INDUSTRY! It is not about scoring points or competing for membership.

This is the 21st Century; a time of Blackberries, iPods and the internet. It is a time when blazers should be consigned to wardrobes - or, better still, charity shops.

The folk in this industry have no clear direction, no focus on the issues at hand and, indeed, no clear objective. And there are some huge issues. An ageing workforce with few young people coming in, dismal wage scales, poor public perception, dwindling membership ... the list goes on. Surely it is time that this industry had a cohesive plan of action to tackle these issues.

Unknown consequences?

The consequences of all this floundering around are clear to see. The IOG stand about as much chance of attracting greenkeepers to their stable as the proverbial cat in hell. Equally, I see no reason why groundsmen would want to join a greenkeepers' association.

Both associations need to look at themselves closely. They need to radically rethink their strategies. The X-factor is now required by both associations. And their prime objective - pure and simple - should be to get back around the table and join forces to form a single united body with one show, one balanced education programme and one central HQ.

Pitchcare would back this initiative to the hilt.

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