Football has been identified as the most popular organised sport in Australia, accommodating all ages, genders and abilities, whilst bringing communities closer together.
Locally, Northern Suburbs Football Association has grown to over 18,000 players thanks to sustained effort by our community clubs in partnership with NSFA. However, we are now faced with our biggest challenge to date. With high participation, engagement and popularity come challenges for facilities and their ability to satisfy competition, training and recreational demand.
According to the Regional Sports Ground Strategy Review conducted by the Northern Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (NSROC), there will be a worsening gap between supply and demand of fields in coming years.
Football accounts for 63% of winter sportsground usage in NSROC and stands to be most impacted by this shortfall in supply. Unless measures are taken to increase capacity, the increased usage will leave dozens of grass fields unusable, unsafe leaving various teams without a home field to conduct training sessions or games at.
An effective option to increase field capacity is converting natural grass fields to synthetic, which maximises the usage threshold of existing sportsfields. The synthetic conversion at Cammeray Oval has been one of many success stories within the NSFA region.
Prior to the synthetic, North Sydney United had to spread their sessions across different grass fields due to the wear and tear. In the winter months, training was also often postponed because of wet weather, and it was very hard to run successful development programs for juniors with consistent hours.
Since the completion of the upgrade in 2015, North Sydney United have been able to almost double their player numbers – from 928 to an incredible 1802 in 2021. They have been able to service more of our community and offer families fantastic opportunities for their sons and daughters to enjoy our sport. Club President Simon Cox underlined the impact of the synthetic.
“Every weekend we now have the ability to play two matches on a Friday evening followed by 6 junior and 4 senior games on a Saturday and then up to 8 female games on Sunday”, he said.
Numerous times this season, Sydney has experienced heavy rain resulting in the closure of grass fields for up to five days at a time, affecting matches and training sessions. Fortunately for North Sydney United, this isn’t a major concern with their all-weather synthetic that utilises new unique environment friendly technology. The field is constructed with the combination of an organic cork and rubber infill, that provides a soft feel and consistent surface whilst not reflecting as much heat as old synthetics. This is the approach developers are using going forward.
With the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 just around the corner, it’s vital to note how important synthetic fields are. As a result of the Women’s World Cup, there will be a large spike in Australian female participants playing the beautiful game over the coming years.
This is already occurring in NSFA, with female player numbers increasing rapidly since 2018 (3,737 to 4,727). With a goal of increasing our overall female player representation to 32% of total player numbers by 2023, at least an extra 1,500 players will need to be accommodated on our existing fields. Increasing field capacity with synthetics will play a huge role ensuring no one will miss out on the opportunity to have a ball at their feet.
“In the past two years particularly, we have expanded into developing Junior Girls Development Programs,” said Cox.
“This is a hugely popular area for us and has become our main focus. Participation is increasing significantly in female football and we are very much in tune with this and its significance in the community. Families are benefitting because siblings can play and train at the same club and venue. This would not have been possible without a synthetic field.”
It’s clear to see the number of key benefits associated with developing synthetic fields, so that we can maximise everyone’s opportunity to enjoy the beautiful game regardless of the weather conditions, number of participants and time constraints.
As an association we encourage councils to consider the use of synthetic fields at suitable sites to increase the capacity of fields. This will allow the NSFA to achieve our purpose, providing accessible, inclusive and enjoyable football opportunities to all our members. We also encourage the football community to write to their local councillor in support.