Footy focus turns political

Massive crowds at country football games could be a thing of the past if the state government doesn''t take action, says Nationals MP. Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS 179445_01

By Mitchell Clarke

Nationals Gippsland MP’s are accusing the state government and the Australian Football League (AFL) of ignoring grassroots football and netball.

Eastern Victoria MP Melina Bath and Gippsland South MP Danny O’Brien are concerned that the government is turning their back on a significant community and social issue.

Ms Bath recently sought help from Minister for Sport Martin Pakula in relation to the troubles afflicting country football and netball in Gippsland through a formal parliamentary process where she asked him to initiate a comprehensive review into regional and rural clubs and the role the AFL plays in supporting the viability and sustainability of these clubs.

As reported by the Gazette earlier this year, the AFL Gippsland commission was sacked after they failed to financially make ends meet as they administered football across the region.

Meanwhile, the fallout left clubs within the Alberton Football League concerned about their future.

“While I recognise that this is primarily a matter for AFL Victoria and the local clubs and leagues, there is a responsibility of government to step in to assist where it can,” Ms Bath said.

“I’m very concerned about where country football and netball will end up and I believe there’s a role for the state government to assist.”

She’s hoping for a similar response to a parliamentary inquiry instituted by the then state government in the mid-2000’s who introduced the Country Football and Netball Funding Program.

But she’s claiming that Mr Pakula has completely “washed his hands”, instead stating grassroots football was a matter for AFL Victoria.

Speaking to the Gazette, the Minister for Sport said the governance and management of local football leagues and commissions are matters for AFL Victoria, but the country football and netball has the backing of the state government.

“The state government is a committed supporter of country football and netball and any reasonable assessment of the facts would bear this out,” Mr Pakula said.

“Labor launched the Country Football and Netball Program in 2005 and the program has since provided more than $26.6 million to clubs across the state.”

Nationals Member Danny O’Brien echoed Ms Bath’s concerns, stating the state government’s approach to the AFL is in stark contrast to that of local football.

“When the AFL came knocking last year looking for taxpayers dollars to renovate Marvel Stadium, Daniel Andrews fell over himself in the rush to hand over the cash,” Mr O’Brien said.

“We then saw $225 million of taxpayers funds go to the wealthiest sporting organisation in the country.”

He believes if the state government and the AFL don’t address current issues surrounding grassroots sports, there will be “huge ramifications” for the sports and regional communities.

“I don’t want to consider what our small towns would be like without a footy and netball club and although the problems are many and varied I am happy to assist with any solutions that the state government can help with.”

But Mr Pakula highlighted a number of recent appearances to Trafalgar and Yarragon to provide new lights so local teams could train longer.

“More broadly, since 2014 the state government has invested more than $850 million in community sport and active recreation infrastructure.”

“We recognise that sports clubs are the heart of local communities and we’re proud to be playing our part to keep them strong.”

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