In this week’s big grassroots football debate – The Wednesday Word – we want to know who you think should be most responsible for investing in improving our grassroots football facilities. Get involved and tell us what you think!
The biggest issue in grassroots football has, for some time, been the condition of our public football facilities.
After Club Website members highlighted it as their number one concern back in 2010, we paid a visit to some of the worst affected sites on our Facilities Tour.
FA research found that 84% of the grassroots community in England cited “poor facilities” as their main concern, which lead to the governing body publishing its first ever National Facilities Strategy this week, outlining plans for £150m of investment in new and refurbished pitches and changing rooms over the next three years.
As the cost of public pitch hire continues to rise amidst an economic downturn, many in the grassroots game are feeling the pinch, whilst some have begun to take action.
Sefton Council recently shelved plans to impose a 300% rise on pitch fees for under-11s in the face of public protests, including a demonstration by 8,500 young footballers.
Whilst that battle was won, the issue has sparked a wider Save Grassroots Football campaign, which has so far gathered over 3,000 signatures to an e-petition calling on the Premier League to channel 7.5% of its TV revenue into the grassroots game.
With the top flight of English football seemingly awash with cash – domestic TV rights alone will bring in £1bn a year over the next three seasons – the stark contrast to the lack of funds at grassroots level causes understandable frustration for those involved.
But is it the Premier League’s job to nurture the game’s grassroots, when all amateur football – the National Game – is the responsibility of the Football Association?
Some argue that, although outside their remit, the Premier League has a duty to invest in the grassroots, as it is a breeding ground for many of its future stars.
The Premier League themselves acknowledge their position within the game and argue that they already share more of their money than any other sporting league or institution in the world.
Last season the league distributed over 15% of its £1.26bn turnover outside of its member clubs, although less than 4% made its way beyond the Football League – via parachute and solidarity payments – to more wider work in the community, such as that carried out by the Creating Chances programme.
The Premier League invests £12m (1% of revenue) into football facilities each year via the Football Foundation, whose other funding partners the FA and Government contribute £12m and £10m respectively.
The UK’s largest sports charity has invested over £780m in grassroots facilities since it was formed in 2000, but during that time it has seen its annual funding cut substantially from an initial £20m per funding partner.
Half of the Premier League’s £12m investment is ring-fenced for the Football Stadia Improvement Fund, which helps non-league clubs, meaning a total of £28m directly funds grassroots projects.
Despite the funding cuts, thousands of smart, new, functioning football facilities across the country are testament to the Foundation’s work but, in attempting to overcome decades of under-investment in public sports facilities, there remains much to be done.
Envious glances are often cast over the Channel to neighbours such as Holland, where statutory local government funding means community football facilities routinely include immaculately maintained, floodlit 3G pitches.
The Government imposes no such statutory obligation in the UK, meaning that public sector facilities – which account for an estimated 80% of all facilities – are often in the most need of renovation, as we found out back in 2010.
But with austerity measures causing councils to cut their budgets, plans for the provision of sports facilities will likely be among the first to be scrapped.
Better football facilities should mean increased participation in sport, which should in turn help to tackle childhood obesity, improve physical and mental health and help to reduce crime.
So should the Government place a greater emphasis on the importance of sport in the community and take a lead on investing in sports facilities as part of their public duty?
Or should the football family do more itself; either through the governing bodies who are custodians of the game, or their colleagues in the professional game with their untold riches?
Despite the excellent work of the Football Foundation, the problem shows no signs of going away any time soon, so do we need one of the main players to really take a lead on such important and emotive issue?
Or is the current cross-game approach, with all parties contributing equally – as demonstrated by the FA’s facilities strategy – the only way to tackle the problem?
We want to know what the grassroots game thinks, so it’s over to YOU!
Tell us what you think!
Have your say by voting in our online poll via your club or league website (or our demo site). Alternatively, you can join the debate on our Facebook or Twitter pages, or have your say in the comments section below.