One of my passions outside of politics is sport, especially football. As someone who used to be secretary of a local junior football club, I know, like many others, that one of the biggest challenges facing community football at all levels, is having pitches to train and play matches on, all year around.
As soon as we hit winter, many sports are adversely affected due to the weather impacting our grass pitches, therefore reducing the ability to train and play matches every week. ‘Rain stopping play’ being the norm for far too many people, children particularly.
There is only so much pitch rotation you can do, to try and protect the pitches so you can have as much play time on them as possible. It’s not only hugely disappointing for children and adults to not have anywhere to play and train during these winter months, and hampers all the benefits to developing skills that continuous training brings, it is also adversely affecting their physical and mental health. Now more than ever, coming out of this pandemic, and with childhood obesity at such high levels in Wales, this needs to change.
Much investment has been made in our big towns and cities, which is of course welcome - offering all weather facility alternatives - but this investment doesn’t go far enough. We need to get to a point where everyone has access to an all weather 3G pitch, within 10 mins of where they live. We ideally need 3G pitches placed strategically in rural areas, so as many surrounding clubs as possible will be able to access and use them as much as they need to, particularly in our wetter months.
We need community grade pitches, accessible to and for all to do a variety of sports on. We also need strategic investment of 3G pitches to support our lower league Clubs, across all parts of Wales.
In Monmouthshire, for example we have three very successful football clubs in Goytre, Monmouth and Abergavenny and we need to give them higher grade artificial grass pitches to play on, to share if necessary.
I have highlighted the need to do more on many occasions in our Senedd/Welsh Parliament.
To be fair the government have listened to an extent and there is currently a commitment from Sport Wales to increase the amount of 3G pitches across Wales to 100 by 2024.
But still we need to think bigger and more strategically now, if we are going to find and support future sporting stars, and ensure our clubs are well equipped from community level up to our own Newport County and beyond, to ensure they have the tools that they need to enable children and adults to play sport to whatever levels they want, and the whole year around.