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Sportsfreak-1Earli­er this year, my 14-year-old son com­pleted his second suc­cess­ive sea­son of col­lege foot­ball with no matches can­celled. His older broth­er, five years his seni­or, would fre­quently have sea­sons with over 50 per­cent of matches called off.

In 2007, the Wel­ling­ton City Coun­cil real­ised that it had a major issue on its hands regard­ing sports­fields pro­vi­sion. Fields were under grow­ing pres­sure mainly as a res­ult of increas­ing demand from sports groups — par­tic­u­larly foot­ball. Wellington’s high annu­al rain­fall, poor soils, large num­ber of fields built on former land­fills with poor drain­age and well-doc­u­mented health haz­ards, and lack of avail­able flat land for new fields had cre­ated a real problem.

Dur­ing 2008, some foot­ball youth grades ended up play­ing only six times dur­ing the sea­son (between April and late August). Sat­urday seni­or foot­ball fix­tures could not be com­pleted on ten occa­sions. Dur­ing that same winter all juni­or rugby was can­celled sev­en times (54% of games), and there were 43 seni­or grade can­cel­la­tions dur­ing the sea­son. These can­cel­la­tions occurred on nine play­ing days between 3 May and 9 August.

So in both Wel­ling­ton and the Hutt Val­ley a pro­ject was put in place to lay arti­fi­cial pitches, accom­pan­ied by flood­light­ing, which has revolu­tion­ised juni­or and ama­teur sport in the region.

In Wel­ling­ton alone, start­ing with Nairn­ville Park in 2009, there have been sev­en arti­fi­cial pitches built, includ­ing two fun­ded in part­ner­ship with Wel­ling­ton Col­lege and St Patrick’s Col­lege. These have revolu­tion­ised sports par­ti­cip­a­tion across the city. Not only are they used extens­ively dur­ing the day and at night on week­ends, they are also used for week­day even­ing train­ing sessions.

For example, foot­ball is using the fields for its nurs­ery grade, juni­or, seni­or, social, mas­ters and rep­res­ent­at­ive play­ers. Inter­na­tion­al rugby teams and the Wel­ling­ton Phoenix have also trained on these sur­faces. The Nation­al Rippa Rugby tour­na­ments and a New Zea­l­and Sec­ond­ary Schools Girls’ Foot­ball tour­na­ment have been held in Wel­ling­ton, some­thing pre­vi­ously inconceivable.

Dur­ing one week alone in July 2011, use of the two arti­fi­cial sports­fields at Wake­field Park amoun­ted to 134 hours, almost match­ing the usage dur­ing the entire five-month winter peri­od on the two nat­ur­al grass fields at the same ven­ue in 2010 (138 hours).

Hav­ing these arti­fi­cial pitches in place has the oth­er side effect of mak­ing it easi­er to main­tain the grass fields. No longer are they used all day on a Sat­urday, mean­ing a gradu­al des­cent into a mud bath with little time for reju­ven­a­tion by the fol­low­ing week­end. Now they can be treated with care. The sight of Karori Park, for example, look­ing pristine at the begin­ning of Septem­ber was unthink­able a few years ago.

This trans­form­a­tion has not been cheap, but it has been a worth­while invest­ment, and Wel­ling­ton is so much rich­er for it.


Graeme Beasley

One of those rare people: a born and bred Wellingtonian. And enough of a Wellingtonian to know how to pronounce Majoribanks Street. Has a soft spot for the Makara wind farm, the south coast and the bucket fountain, but refuses to toot the horn in the Mt Victoria tunnel. Very familiar in handling the full range of emotions generated by supporting Wellington sports team. Works in IT.

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