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Artificial pitches approved for FA Cup
Updated 4:15pm Monday 24th March 2014 in Sport
Artificial pitches will be allowed in all rounds of the FA Cup from next season, the Football Association has announced in a move which could herald a sea-change in attitudes to the surface.
Sports minister Helen Grant has welcomed the announcement and has called on the Football Conference to allow 3G pitches in its competition.
Under current rules, artificial pitches are banned from the first round of the FA Cup onwards and in the Conference upwards - the Conference rejected a bid to change the regulations as recently as January.
The FA's decision could be a significant game-changer, ever though the Premier League said it had no plans to look at the issue because its clubs have the resources to provide top-quality grass surfaces.
FA general secretary Alex Horne said: ''Clubs are increasingly seeing the benefits of using 3G surfaces across the football pyramid and clubs who play on those surfaces can now retain home advantage in the competition.
''They are a very useful asset and capable of delivering 50 plus hours per week as compared to a natural turf pitch which can deliver perhaps five hours per week. This is clearly an advantage for clubs, or communities, wishing to deliver a pitch with sustainable running costs.
''The value of 3G pitches has been clearly demonstrated during the recent wet weather where leagues within the grassroots game have migrated to them to address fixture backlogs.''
There are only around 600 good quality artificial pitches in England and the FA are looking to substantially increase that number.
The sports minister has already held talks with the FA and the Football Conference on the issue - Maidstone United, who had unsuccessfully sought the rule change, are in her constituency.
Grant said: ''I believe that allowing 3G pitches in the Football Conference would now be a sensible step. Of course it is for the Football Conference in conjunction with the FA to make any decision on the use of 3G pitches.
''I will continue to press the case for a change of the rules and will be holding formal discussions with football authorities over the coming weeks.''
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