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The problem of operation and maintenance management

The maintenanance managementThe maintenanance management

One of the main problems is the management of maintenance, both routine and extraordinary. Nowadays, the management of a sports centre is limited to the planning of sporting activities and routine maintenance which, more often than not, is insufficient or ineffective due to a lack of professional expertise. The task is often the responsibility of the sports clubs, which lack the resources and trained technical staff, let alone knowledge of environmental regulations. Despite the fact that many sports clubs and municipalities have invested large sums in the construction of modern pitches over the years, the results are still unsatisfactory, the costs are high and the impact on the environment is not even taken into account.

The current environmental certifications promoted by the European Commission require the certification of products and services throughout the entire production chain and product life cycle. Through databases, which are the result of many years of studies, it is possible to estimate the CO2 emissions of human activities with the strategic objective of achieving zero emissions or rather sequestering carbon in the soil. In fact, every product has three macroscopic certification phases: phase A of production and installation up to the delivery of the product for use, phase B of the use and maintenance of the product and phase C of the disposal of the product with waste disposal, recycling or reuse.

The majority of certifications are still carried out in the industrial sector and mainly concern phase A and to a lesser extent phase C, which is already a good starting point but not a solution if the problem is not tackled throughout the entire life cycle of the asset. The use and maintenance of the good concerns the longest period of its life cycle and is precisely that which escapes all control, also because, most of the time, it depends on the private user who does not even have the technical skills to understand how to use each product, let alone maintain it correctly. Only through environmentally friendly maintenance can we extend the useful life of the good, and this is the whole point of the circular economy.

As far as football pitches are concerned, currently in Italy, there is a regulation for the construction of synthetic turf pitches with the appropriate controls that focuses exclusively on phase A and does so with excessive thoroughness, but no process has so far been studied for the other two phases. Synthetic turf sports fields on the one hand increase the usability of the field and simplify maintenance but, in terms of safety, do not seem to convince players; in fact, the American football association NFL has asked clubs to redo natural grass fields. In football, many players even avoid playing on a synthetic pitch while those in rugby are looking for softer pitches with more traction and stability. From an environmental point of view, according to ECHA (European Chemical Agency) guidelines, infill rubber should be removed from synthetic turf pitches to avoid the risk of microplastics pollution. Finally, premature consumption of the synthetic fibre requires careful monitoring, which shortens the service life of an all synthetic turf pitch.

On the other hand, natural grass pitches require a high level of maintenance mainly to repair the divots that form in the ground. However, even if they are well maintained, they are not very resistant to intensive use and not very resilient to climate change, while the risk of impracticability after torrential rain is high. Over the years, various reinforcement systems integrated with sandy substrates have been developed that make the natural field more stable and increase its usability but, on the other hand, have drawbacks that lead to increased expenses for routine and extraordinary maintenance. Even in this case, the repair of potholes is necessary after each game, while the risk of extraordinary intervention persists and is highly costly.

The solution for sports field management

The solution today lies in the hybrid system of the POWERgrass type because it increases usability, resistance to play and resilience to climate change. It therefore requires less maintenance because, firstly, there are no divots. The risk of extraordinary interventions is also reduced if the natural grass is professionally maintained. In the hybrid design system, the natural grass is predominant, offers greater playing safety and even protects the synthetic fibres from the UV rays of the sun, so maintenance is a prerequisite for the durability of the system. For this reason, the manufacturer's guarantee is also linked to proper maintenance.

The system designer, more than anyone else, has to contribute to the information and training of the operators, so that the maintenance service is carried out correctly. However, a fundamental aspect of maintenance is the use of the field because improper or excessive use directly affects the maintenance and the life of the field, and therefore also limits the guarantee.

The need therefore arises to appoint a single person, the so-called Sports Centre Manager, who can properly control both the use and the maintenance because, while simplifying the routine maintenance of a hybrid pitch, a constant presence of a person qualified to take care of the grass is necessary, who at the same time will also be able to coordinate how the sports centre is used. From a technical point of view, the intensive use of the pitch also requires expertise in the physiology of the grass, its nutritional needs and what stresses it is subjected to during the hot and cold seasons.

In the UK, the groundsman is fundamental to the care and planning of the pitch and every manager should have a competent groundsman, but this is not enough. From a practical and legal point of view, the person in charge must be separate from the athletic activity, he must work with the property like a building manager; he or she must report directly to the property or to the manager in charge and there must be no conflict of interest with the sporting activity. In fact, the actual management of the sports centre requires technical and administrative staff to set up a feasible programme in line with the technical limitations of the playing fields. The manager's objective is to make the field usable and safe, but he must know the limits so that the management is sustainable from a technical, economic and environmental point of view; just think that a game in the rain on a natural field, cultivated on earth, can compromise the turf for the whole season.

In addition, it is believed that the figure of the manager can become central not only for phase B of use and maintenance but also for the choice of the system to be installed so that maintenance is more optimised, truly providing efficient and safe pitches at a reasonable cost.

The operator must be qualified both to carry out the works and to perform the service of ordinary maintenance. It will have to certify the environmental impact that its activity has on the territory during the installation, use and maintenance phase of the field. In addition, it will have to contribute to the extension of the life of the pitch, so that the impact of the pitch during the construction phase is still diluted even more over time.

It is believed that only the combination of effective systems, environmentally friendly maintenance methods and proper use of the pitch can contain direct and indirect costs with a positive environmental impact, making the pitches usable and safe for play.

There is therefore a need to train qualified managers so that sports facilities are sustainable. In addition to the management and the routine  maintenance of the pitch, the managers must also take care of the extraordinary maintenance or any renovation.

Even before the manager is appointed, an executive project for the sustainability of the management task must be drawn up, including an estimate of the costs of use and maintenance with a forward-looking projection that will increase the usability and efficiency of the sports facilities.

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