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Student Athletes Criticise “Dreadful” Facilities at New Malden Ground

Roar investigate claims from student athletes that the facilities at New Malden Ground have deteriorated to appalling standards.

Student athletes have long been voicing concerns about the disrepair they tolerate using the New Malden sports ground. Despite the website for the sports ground showing an idyllic and picturesque setting, a visit conducted by Roar revealed the true state of the facilities. This included large chunks of paint missing from facades, ceilings and doors, mould growing around the external structure of the building, a broken urinal and a kit storage cabin with a decaying door.

The kit storage portacabin door sits open on 15 March 2024 revealing a musty and moulding interior. According to university sources, the portacabin will hopefully be replaced this summer. Photo by Kate Bent
The floor of the kit storage portacabin erodes at New Malden sports grounds on 15 March 2024. The floor bounces when stepped on and a small amount of pressure broke a hole. Photo by Kate Bent
A hose covers the only outdoor water tap at New Malden on 15 March 2024. A source said they have seen players drink directly from the hose Photo by Kate Bent

Roar spoke to players about their experiences using the ground as part of their societies.

“My secondary school, which was woefully underfunded, had better facilities than this,” a player who uses the site at New Malden said. “I come in and this does not seem like KCL, the international university that is regarded as top of the line. This seems like some backwater fields. Genuinely, the facilities are dreadful.”

“We all recognise that it is an ageing facility in need of investment,” responded Mark Burgess, Head of Sport and Wellness at KCL, when approached over e-mail. He said that he is looking to make a series of improvements over the summer that include replacing the storage portacabin. 

A representative of one of the teams who play at New Malden said that their team has lost prospective players after they have visited the facilities. This adds to what is already a difficult recruiting process for sports societies. 

Student athletes at New Malden also said that a major issue with the site is being able to readily access clean drinking water for players and spectators. According to Burgess, there are three drinking taps onsite: one in the men’s changing rooms, one outside the gym reserved for independent football club AFC Wimbledon, and another outdoors.

A sign reading “Drinking Tap” hangs above the only outdoor tap which is currently connected to a hose at New Malden on 15 March 2024. Photo by Kate Bent

However, a sports club representative noted that each of these taps pose potential problems. For example, female athletes are unable to access the tap in the men’s changing rooms. Additionally, they said that players at New Malden cannot use the tap outside the AFC Wimbledon gym as “it is essentially off limits to students”. Student athletes also reported that the outside tap is often attached to a hose and that they’ve seen students drink directly from that. 

Burgess told Roar that all taps at New Malden are “regularly tested as part of our water safety and legionella checks”.

Multiple student athletes who spoke to Roar said that the muddy and damaged state of the pitches has diminished the quality of both practices and matches. One student said that at the beginning of the season there was a large divot in the pitch, which they saw as a safety hazard and worried about it potentially causing injuries. That student ended up fixing the hole themselves. When approached about the divot, KCL ensured that their staff undertake pitch inspections ahead of fixtures and training sessions, preventing the pitch from being used if it is deemed unsafe.

Burgess said that many of the problems with the pitches have been caused by the unusually high volume of rain this winter and that there are issues with drainage at the site. “With the water table so high, the pitches become waterlogged each time it rains and the regular choice is whether to cancel sport – which we don’t want to do if we can avoid it – or let sport go ahead knowing there will be damage to the pitches no matter who uses them,” he said. 

Burgess confirmed that the annual work to repair the pitches will begin in May. 

A representative for one of the clubs said the state of the facilities at New Malden is having an emotional impact on the players. “The lack of investment and general treatment of the students at New Malden leaves us all feeling downtrodden, undervalued and largely forgotten about by the university,” said athletes involved in Roar’s report.

They went on to state that they appreciate the efforts of the KCLSU to fix some of the issues at New Malden and are hopeful that Burgess will be able to effect change. 

“The good news is that the issues are all rectifiable via some much needed investment reallocation,” the representative said. “Let’s hope the university doesn’t leave it until it’s too late.”

When approached about this investigation, the university assured Roar that staff routinely meet with sports groups based at New Malden to discuss issues, shape future plans and provide them with a space to raise their concerns.

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