Unsafe soccer fields – a disappointing update

soccer goal safety

So. Soccer popularity is at an all time high across Australia. Our women’s soccer team, the Matildas, have gone gangbusters in the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The semi final ‘crushed all-time television ratings records’. This massive profile will generate large numbers of new young and adult players to the sport.

But I still have a safety concern. In April I posted an article about my local park which had more than a dozen moveable soccer goals not anchored to the ground. In that article I explained that anchoring soccer goals is a vital measure to minimise the risk of the posts toppling onto someone, especially children.

Serious injuries and fatalities have occurred in Australia and elsewhere when soccer goals have fallen. Worldwide there have been more than 40 deaths and many more serious injuries. In Australia there have been at least seven deaths and many serious injuries, with one incident resulting in paraplegia.

The ones I saw at my local park in April all had warning labels. However, none were anchored to the ground. Only half had anchor pegs attached to the goals, the other half didn’t even have pegs.

I did not name the park or the soccer club in that first post, but feel it’s necessary to do so now. The park is Lord Reserve in the Melbourne suburb of Carnegie and the club is Glen Eira Football Club.

What’s happened since April – my local park

My first point of call after posting the article was City of Glen Eira and one councillor, who both responded promptly. The Council advised the city’s sports clubs are required to follow the relevant standards as a condition of using local parks and that they had written a reminder to all clubs in the City and directly contacted the club at Lord Reserve.

I’ve been to the park a few times since my article and nothing had changed. But last week I saw that anchor pegs and hammers have been attached to all of the large goals. A vast improvement, of course. I guess the council’s efforts had some effect.

However, the attached pegs and hammers seem just to be treated as decoration. Not one of the goals had been anchored to the ground – not even a single peg. This was a Thursday afternoon and no officials appeared to be present. My guess is that the goals are left out untethered at all times. Even if anchored at practice and match times, leaving unstable goals throughout the week shows an indifference to safety.

Each time I visit the park, the goals are left in different spots. Clearly, Glen Eira Council is not in a position to run constant checks. Whoever is responsible for managing the soccer equipment at the park has not made sure the goals are safe, especially when unattended by any officials.

I worry that many other parks around suburban and regional Australia may be the same.

Soccer goal not anchored in place
Goal with yellow peg and hammer, ready for use
Unsafe soccer goal not anchored to the ground
Moveable goal at Lord Reserve, Carnegie, with hammer and pegs attached but not used.

Injuries from soccer goals are not common, but they are potentially serious and sports officials have a responsibility to manage recognised hazards.

Goal safety standard

The mandatory product safety standard requires soccer goals heavier than 28kg for sale in Australia to have anchoring pegs and be marked with prominent warnings. As well, a goal must not tip over or fail to return to its original position when subjected to a test procedure. I don’t know, of course, how much the particular goals weigh at my local park, but I can take a guess that at least the larger ones are more than 28kg. And I do wonder whether these goals would pass the stability tests (even if anchored).

Football club governance

As well as contacting my local council, in April I wrote to the Victorian Minister for Sport, The Hon. Steve Dimopoulos (whose electorate includes Lord Reserve), Victorian Minister for Community Sport, The Hon. Ros Spence and the federal Minister for Sport, The Hon. Anika Wells. Each responded promptly and with concern, noting that it is local councils and the sports clubs that are responsible for safety compliance. At the national level, I received a letter from the chief of staff at the Australian Sports Commission which said they had written to Football Australia about the issue.

I recently checked a couple of local club websites for their rules and found it quite informative. One club I visited in a neighbouring local government area has a policy that emphasises goalposts must be stable and anchored at all times.

Soccer club policy on anchoring goals

I visited that club’s venue and was impressed to find goalposts safety stored in a lockable shed. No goals were left on the field as they packed up for the day.

Glen Eira Football Club also has a goalpost safety policy, but I haven’t seen any evidence of this being implemented and reinforced at Lord Reserve. Safety equipment is only effective when applied as intended. It would interesting to know what insurers would say.

I will write again to the government agencies and to Football Australia.

With the Matildas inspiring the next generation of players, all clubs must ensure it’s safe for everyone – on game day and any time someone’s using the park.

‘It’s not just during games. Kids will be kids. So please keep in mind – goalposts need respect at all times’

Adrian Leijer, former Melbourne Victory captain and Socceroo