Groundsmanship is only part of the Sport Industry
By Peter Leroy
Much has been written during the last few months, if not years, and often with passion on the subject of "professionalism" within our industry. From time to time topics have been raised which inflame some and put others to sleep.
The topics such as artificial turf, industry standards, presentation of sporting facilities, remuneration packages, industrial relations difficulties, representative groups, and the list could go on. The current thread sweeping through Pitchcare is without doubt causing much discussion from the village greens of western England to the lush green fields of New Zealand and many other countries in between. From Lords', to the SCG and Wanderers to Yankee Stadium.
The one thing missing is objectivity. There is as yet no focus or degree of understanding on a global scale. Yes, there are several individuals making excellent comment via this forum, Pitchcare, as well as many other similar Internet sites world-wide. The cause of the current discussion within Pitchcare has to do with a culmination of so many frustrations, perceived wrongs, lack of support and total misunderstanding of just who or what is the "Professional Groundsman".
One subscriber, and there are others who have flirted around the topic, has put forward the notion of a need for strong leadership or perhaps he is even suggesting that there is a need for our section of the sports industry to become proactive. The true purpose of this article is to seize on that small post and the thought behind it
Before we can do so, it is my opinion that we, as a global band of brothers, need to really come to understand just where we "fit" within the sports industry. To me, the industry is simply divided into various groups. The end user or player, the spectator who desires to follow their own passion for a particular sport and so is willing to pay his hard earned money for that enjoyment. We then come to that section of the industry that has the role of providing the facilities and the maintenance thereof. And that is where the Groundsman comes into his or her own.
While I could expand several individual sections of this world of sport into playing surfaces and buildings, for the purposes of this article I will attempt to stay with just the playing surfaces and their requirements.
The surface is there so as to provide a place for the player to entertain the spectator. In some cases there may be no spectators and so the playing surface is there solely for the enjoyment of the player. The player is rewarded, often simply, by demonstrating his or her skills at that sport. In order to improve those skills the player insists, in most cases, that the playing surface be according to his or her level of skill. The greater the skill leads to the greater the performance of the surface.
To achieve this 'player required playing surface' can take the skills of others to produce. Hence the Groundsman, as it is a rare player who has the time to not only enjoy his own sporting skill but to demonstrate his or her ability at producing that playing surface. Groundsmanship, with some exceptions, is not a natural skill and so education is required. That education requires that there be those who educate the Groundsman in the skill required to meet the expectations of the end user, the player.
A digression here in that a question is already forming, that is who trains the educators so that they can educate the Groundsman? Those Institutes that provide that skill to the Groundsman are, for the sake of argument, also part of the global sports industry. The second question relating to the education of Groundsmen could be along the lines of just how do the educators know what the Groundsman needs to know and how do they provide that knowledge?
As I say, a slight digression, but placed here to indicate how it isn't just about growing grass by an individual. No, it can already be seen that Groundsmanship is a team effort. No one person is greater than the industry. That industry does not and cannot exist without several teams combining in unison. And so the Groundsman is educated by a section of the industry. That section is just as important as any other, but is not of greater importance.
In general, the Groundsman works with nature. And while he or she will never overcome nature to achieve the playing surface desired by the player, the Groundsman can use several tools to cajole, bend, and encourage nature to abide by his wishes. The accepted surface for field sports is a natural one. And the players along with spectators prefer that surface to be turf. There is actually no reason, if one thinks long enough about it, as to why it could not be bare soil or even synthetic. However, the sports industry, for whatever reason, began on turf and so the majority now expect that playing surface to be just that, a natural turf surface.
Being a turf means that it does require maintenance, even simply cutting and watering is a basic requirement. To do that simple work brings along another section of the industry, that being the equipment manufacturing and turf growth supply and maintenance section.
Yes, the Groundsman could cut with scissors, however someone needs to manufacture them and so specialty scissors are needed, ergo, a turf manufacturing company becomes part of the sports industry. The turf requires water and so a hose attached to a delivery system and so the irrigation industry is born.
Like all things in nature, the turf is a living thing and so nutrition is required. The fertilizer industry. Some turf is prone to weeds, pests' disease and et voila! the fungicide, herbicide industry.
Even the manufacturers of paint and a whole range of other products are required to take a role in the sports industry. In the case of the player or spectator much is dismissed as incidental to their enjoyment. Not to the Groundsman. Those support industries are vital, indeed are his lifeblood.
Many of those peripheral industries have standards and those same standards were often developed solely due to the requirement of the educated Groundsman. In many situations, those standards are created by the Groundsman in consultation with others. How high to cut the turf for football? Groundsmen observe the players and so evaluate the requirement for the player. Eventually a cutting height is determined and so that advice is passed on to the manufacturer who then produces equipment capable of achieving the Groundsman's wish.
Unfortunately, these thoughts and wishes of the individual Groundsmen are not passed on to another efficiently or in some cases if they are the message is changed to mean something else. The player, and so to the spectator, has a great desire to produce their skills not only on the surface that they call home, but also when they play on a different teams surface.
This brings us to the requirement for having natural surfaces perform in a similar manner. It is the slight variances that the players enjoy from the surfaces. It allows them to hone their skills and not become carbon copy robots. The better their skill on a variety of surface the greater their demand by team managers and so the greater the reward. Simple human nature. Or as one slightly famous person put it, "everyone is equal, it is just that some are more equal than others"
And so we have a trillion dollar, pound, yen, rand sports industry with each member interdependent of the other.
For the Groundsman it is a requirement that he know measurements as well as many of the details so that he can provide the surface. As each cannot possibly have all information at his finger tips, it is necessary to provide a store of information. And so groups are formed for the exchange of information and to act as the keeper of rules and regulations. Such groups are generally funded by the users of the information, the Groundsman in this case.
The argument here is just who sets the rules or standards and who will represent the machine manufacturers, the fertiliser industry, irrigation specialists and Groundsmen etc? Is there a need to have a controlling global body for all?
The players have such. Be they F.I.F.A., I.C.C., R.F.U. and the gamut of other playing of sport groups. In many cases the manufacturers et al. do form alike groups and so exchange information regarding the manufacturing of sports industry products. In some countries there are groups that do represent the local Groundsman or even at a National level. And of course the venues now have several global organizations.
This article is to promote a notion, expressed by the management team of Pitchcare, even if quietly and now by a small post by an individual. That "notion" is a simple question. Is there a need to form an International body that oversees the rules, regulations, performance, and education etc. of those who provide the playing surface for the player?
This group would meet annually or at agreed times to discuss all and more of the above. It would have representatives of the players, Groundsmen, manufacturers, institutes, researchers and perhaps even the sporting bodies as well.
This group, and for want of a better name might be called World Turf Council or if it must be something else then, Le Mondial Turf, would take the responsibility of forming the minimum standards required. In conjunction with such groups as FIFA, ICC et al, they would lobby on behalf of their section of the sports industry to improve educational standards, equipment and perhaps playing rules of individual sports. There may be many other areas for this group to take on board as the "parent" body.
The sports have their group, the players theirs, the playing surfaces are not globally represented in this trillion dollar industry and yet they have the greatest expectation by both player and spectator alike. In a small way an example is already in place even though that group is really part of the global sports industry they are rarely considered when discussing the industry in its entirety.
That is the world of golf.
Played in almost every corner of the world and when the player is out there performing he or she will know the rules, how the greens will perform etc. They may not even speak the same language and yet in every country where that sport is played, it is 18 holes, and par and green height of whatever. All these days, at some stage. will mention the U.S.G.A. Greens Section. It is not a "parent" body as such for the sport of golf and yet the world generally abides by their standards. Much of the research information for Groundsmen has actually come from within that group.
The world of playing surface research is often at odds with itself in that many resources and funds are doubled if not tripled up due to a lack of communication. The ITC (International Turf Council) has endeavoured over the years to overcome such waste of resources and research and with much success. If that group were to have representation on this WTC then it would only go to aid more efficient funding for turf research.
I have doubts that the USGA would be interested in having representation on WTC as they have narrowed their work to one particular sport. Perhaps once having indicated a true professionalism by the WTC, the USGA may reconsider.
Funded by the major sporting groups, government, manufacturers etc. such a group as WTC could actually be of major financial benefit to those sports groups. FIFA and others could apply their resources to the administration of their particular sport rather than becoming embroiled in the regulation of playing surfaces. They would simply put forward their requirement for dimensions etc. and allow the WTC to provide the guidelines to the venues as for the playing surface performance and condition.
Yes, there is much more to such a "notion" and in many ways this subject has been broached already. I feel that much needed to be placed in writing so that others can consider their own thoughts and after discussion with others within their group put forward counters or other suggestions that have not been as yet considered.
Is there a need, how would it work, who would fund, how would the structure work, is it possible? Unless one asks, how will you know? There purpose is after all, to improve the industry by offering a professional profile for each and every Groundsman and representative of the sports industry.
My opening thoughts, what are yours?