Down and dirty on our sports fields

Drew Cairney (13, front) trains with his Kaikorai Demons under-13 team-mates (from left) Jevon...
Drew Cairney (13, front) trains with his Kaikorai Demons under-13 team-mates (from left) Jevon McFarlane, Ben Mason, Nick Sharp, Sam Stewart and Kane McLister (all 12) on the No 2 field at Bishopscourt yesterday. Photo by Stephen Jaquiery.

Wet weather has turned some Dunedin sports fields into bogs, but any permanent solutions are likely to be years away.

Some parents are criticising the condition of fields this season, but the Dunedin City Council blames continuing rain, combined with a lack of wind and warmth to dry fields - and a wet summer - for causing a muddy situation.

But others believe mud comes with the territory in winter sport.

Dunedin Metropolitan Junior Rugby chairwoman Donna Wingham said she had never known so many practices to be cancelled as had been the case this year.

However, only one game has been cancelled so far.

''To be honest, I don't know what you could do short of digging [the fields] up at enormous cost. I think we just have to accept this is the part of the world we live in and we can't control the weather,'' she said.

The committee had not received any complaints about sports fields so far this year.

Kaikorai Rugby Football Club chairman Ron St Clair-Newman said wet grounds at Bishopscourt, particularly on a field used for senior training at night, was just something the club dealt with and he was happy with the council's management of the fields.

But Football South game development manager Tracy Fleet said she had fielded multiple complaints from users about the state of fields, which seemed to be about ''10 times'' worse than usual.

Fields at Chingford Park, Mornington, Brockville and Sunnyvale were ''bogs'', while a field at St Leonards was already closed when it was usually playable until late July.

Football South had been trying to manage games to limit damage to certain fields.

''There are things we can do, but they are things people don't necessarily like. But we are trying our best to manage it, so everybody can still play football.''

Council sport services officer Nick Maguire said there had been slightly more rain than last year, but the real problem was the ground had not dried out since the wet summer.

Staff had anticipated problems and were doing everything possible to keep fields in usable condition, such as spiking the ground and verti-draining.

''It gets to a point where you can do as much as you can and if you do more you're just causing more damage, including when you cut fields.''

Staff had a good relationship with sports codes trying to manage fields, although there was pressure to keep fields open.

Closing fields such as the boggy No 2 field beside the clubrooms at Bishopscourt would simply move the problem to another area, given the demands on the city's grounds.

The state of the No 2 field last weekend caused some outrage on Facebook among junior team parents, one of whom said children were playing in ''ankle-deep sludge that has a very distinctive rotting smell''.

Council parks manager Lisa Wheeler said the council spent about $2.1 million a year maintaining more than 140 sports fields at about 50 grounds across the city.

It was not possible to drain all fields because of the cost and there were no plans at present to improve drainage at any fields.

Sport Otago was reviewing the use of sports fields, which would form the basis of a plan to improve grounds to meet increased demand, but there was no plan to build more fields.

That work was expected to take another few years to complete after councillors in May rejected a request from Sport Otago to provide initial funding so it could complete the work faster.

The council decided several years ago to remove from its budget $1 million for draining sports fields, after the project kept getting pushed out and became no longer relevant, Ms Wheeler said.

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