I love community sport. I remember the nerves I felt before a race at little athletics and the joy of playing footy with friends at high school. Sport also kept me busy and out of trouble. In an age of increasing isolation and disconnection, we need community sport more than ever.

However many of Moreland’s sporting grounds are unusable in winter when they become waterlogged, which was especially true this particularly wet winter. Many locals have told me how hard this has been for their kids who are desperate to get outside and reconnect after two years of lockdowns.

The problem is that Moreland’s sporting ovals have been built on a thick layer of sand to improve drainage. But grass doesn’t grow well on sand, so it fails in winter when growing conditions worsen.

Synthetic turf is understandably seen as a quick fix to this problem. However there are big problems with plastic grass; it can’t be recycled in Australia, it degrades and leaks into our waterways, it gets unusably hot in summer, and there are emerging human health concerns. The Environmental Impact Study on Artificial Football Turf by Eunomia Research & Consulting Ltd outlines commissioned by FIFA in 2017, outlines the environmental impact of synthetic turf, particularly in terms of microplastic leaching.

A supplied image shows micro plastics being poured onto a teaspoon at the PACE research facility. University of Queensland researchers will use a special contamination-controlled steel lab to work out how much plastic pollution has invaded the human body. Photo: AAP/Supplied by University of Queensland

So what if there was a way to increase the quality and playing time of our natural turf soccer fields and thereby reducing our need for plastic grass? New scientific evidence shows that adding large volumes of organic matter (compost) to natural turf fields increases turf resilience, growth rates, and playing capacity by around 60 percent. The lifecycle cost of natural turf is also around 70 per cent cheaper than synthetic turf. Building less synthetic turf fields could therefore free up lots of money to improve the rest of Moreland’s natural turf fields.

Given the poor state of Moreland’s natural turf fields, our two synthetic pitches, including Clifton Park, Brunswick, play a vital role in our local soccer infrastructure. My Greens councillor colleagues and I have never suggested that Clifton Park should be demolished or replaced with natural turf.

That’s why I was surprised to learn of last week’s community meeting of local soccer clubs calling to save a park which no one had threatened to destroy. The meeting was organised after I had clarified online my support to retain the synthetic pitch at Clifton Park. Alas, it’s an election year.

Nevertheless, I was very happy to attend the meeting to set the record straight and ease any anxieties which had been stirred.

Moreland Council is currently assessing how it manages its sporting grounds to allow community sport to grow and thrive. I’m hopeful that council can find natural alternatives to improve the condition of our sporting grounds, whilst retaining the two synthetic pitches which play a critical role in supporting community sport, especially soccer.

Community sport is the glue that keeps us together.

Let’s avoid unnecessary division and work together to improve its foundations.

I’m contactable via Twitter (@JamesMConlan), Facebook or email jconlan@moreland.vic.gov.au

Cr James Conlan is a Greens Councillor for Moreland (Merri-bek) in Melbourne’s inner north