Weekend rugby league games axed

TONY SMITH AND LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 16:23 05/04/2013
Somerfield Park, football
KIRK HARGREAVES/Fairfax NZ

THWARTED: Cashmere Tech Football Club members train at Somerfield Park, one of the unmarked grounds last week.

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All lower-grade rugby league games in Canterbury have been axed for this weekend because of the city council's failure to mark pitches.

The announcement follows yesterday's announcement that thousands of footballers would be sidelined this weekend because the council had failed to mark out enough pitches to allow the winter sports season to get under way.

The council has apologised for its failure, admitting it was "over-ambitious" in believing it could have the fields marked in time.

Mainland Football announced yesterday that only about 20 of its 100 grounds could be used, forcing the cancellation of junior grade games.

This afternoon, the Canterbury Rugby League (CRL) has followed suit, saying it was "extremely disappointed" that only premier and premier B rugby league would be played this weekend.
 
CRL said it had "worked tirelessly" over the past week trying to ensure grounds were ready to play.

However, in an email at 11.50am it was told the council had "closed almost our entire allocation of parks across the city due to them not being marked".
 
CRL general manger Craig Kerr said: "Our clubs and community have worked very hard on getting teams together in readiness for tomorrow's opening day and will no doubt be gutted at this outcome.
 
"We have tried to contact the appropriate person from the CCC for comment. However, at the time of writing we have been unable to speak with anyone directly."

COUNCIL FAILING TO MAINTAIN SPORTS FIELDS, SAYS GROUNDSMAN

The city council's failure to mark enough football pitches for tomorrow's opening round of matches highlights underlying issues with sports field maintenance in Christchurch, a leading groundsman says.

Ian McKendry, who is chairman of the Sports Turf Association of New Zealand (Stanz), said many sports surfaces in Christchurch could be regarded as a health and safety risk to athletes.

He believed the contract model for the maintenance of sports parks in Christchurch needed to be overhauled.

''City Care just does not have the specific skills, knowledge or contractual direction to maintain sports fields to an acceptable level,'' McKendry said.

McKendry said the council needed to lift its game and argued there was a lack of investment in playing surfaces in Christchurch compared with other cities.

In Auckland, for example, the council had budgeted to spend $87.5 million over the next 10 years on upgrading and developing natural and artificial surfaces across all sporting codes.

''Christchurch is far behind other cities in providing quality fields and facilities for sport and recreation,'' McKendry said.

''In my experience, having travelled and worked with parks departments across New Zealand, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Asia, Christchurch parks maintenance standards would be 20 years off the pace.''

Mainland Football game development manager Colin Grant said the federation was "dismayed" and the pitch availability problem was "worse than after the [February 2011] earthquake".

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"It's very disappointing. Our clubs and players will be gutted, especially the parents. The kids will have been chomping at the bit to get out there," he said.

Mainland Football, which represents more than 15,000 players in the top of the South Island, said it had no alternative but to postpone a significant number of its 400 scheduled matches. (See below for the list of those grades which will play.)

"We only have 22 marked senior fields; we normally need possibly 100," Grant said.

Jane Parfitt, the city council's general manager of the city environment group, apologised "to those affected by the mistake".

"The bringing forward of the junior and intermediate season start dates has made this more difficult this year," she said.

Contractors had been asked to "pull out all the stops" to have as many fields as possible marked for the weekend, but most would still be unavailable.

"We were over-ambitious in believing we could have the fields marked in time for the earlier opening and we should not have committed to this,'' she said.

"We are working closely with contractors now and extra staff have been brought in to speed up the process. We will make a list of affected sports grounds available [today] on our website."

Grant said all junior and youth and most senior football matches would be postponed, although there was "a possibility of some youth division one teams playing".

He understood the fields were being marked by City Care, the operations company owned by the Christchurch City Council.

"I believe they were meant to start marking on April 1, which is too late. They used to start marking the fields not used for cricket from mid-March,'' he said.

"It's worse than the [2011] earthquake [when] we lost 60 fields, but we were still able to get everyone on the field for the start of the season."

Cashmere Technical Football Club development manager Fred Simpson said it was "very disappointing" that the season would not start on time.

He thought there should have been enough time to mark out the winter pitches "because cricket finished a week earlier this year".

The Canterbury Rugby Football Union is also affected by the pitch-marking delays.

General manager Tim Gilkison said scheduled matches in all senior grades would still go ahead, though some games would have to be "shuffled".

Asked why football could not use cones as temporary pitch markers, Grant said it was not just sidelines that needed to be marked but "penalty areas and centre circles too".

Referees would not allow games to go ahead on unmarked pitches, he said.

The following Mainland Football grades will play:

Robbie's MPFL
Mainland Foundation PDL
Robbie's Men Divisions  1, 2, 3, 4 ,5 and 6
Robbie's U21s
Robbie's Men's Pres A and B
Robbie's Men's Master Div 1
Robbie's Women Divisions 1 and 2
CCSL Divisions 1, 2, 3, 4and 5
18th Grade Girls
14th Grade Girls Div 1 and 2
Spagalimis 18th Grade Schools Div 1
Spagalimis 18th Grade Clubs Div 1
Spagalimis 17th Grade Div 1
Konica Minolta 15th Grade Div 1
Konica Minolta 14th Grade Div 1
Konica Minolta 13th Grade Div 1
Konica Minolta 12th Grade Div 1

See the website for more details by clicking here.

- The Press

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