By David Nagel and Nick Creely
Community football leagues are working hard behind the scenes and exploring all options to keep their seasons alive after Tuesday’s announcement that the current statewide lockdown has been extended to midnight on Tuesday, 27 July.
The West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC) and AFL Outer East are considering recommendations received from AFL Victoria regarding various scenarios for competitions interrupted by Covid.
WGFNC Operations Manager Brandon Milburn said the situation was fluid, but the priorities of the league were clear.
“The health and safety of the community remains the highest priority for the WGFNC,” Milburn said.
“Once a return to play is established, we will work with clubs to complete the season in the most equitable way allowable, ensuring even home games.
“The WGFNC and its Advisory Committee are considering potential scenarios; however, until an option to return to play is available, it is hard to determine what the scenarios might look like.”
All scenarios are being considered, including the season being pushed back, the home and away season shortened, or a change to the current six-team finals set up. Further lockdowns and different restrictions between Metro and Regional areas also need to be considered.
“Nothing has been ruled out,” Milburn said.
“The WGFNC will continue to evaluate all potential options in consultation with member clubs. The WGFNC is mindful of allowing clubs to be able to generate revenue through the home and away season.”
AFL Outer East is exploring all options to keep the season alive, with the league to heavily consult with the senior football and netball clubs this week to find a solution going forward.
Outer East Region General Manager Aaron Bailey told the Gazette that the positive was that a large chunk of the season had already been played, but logistically the league had to work through how the rest of the season was going to look to ensure it is fair on all clubs.
“We’re going to speak to all clubs over four days with a view to return ASAP, once restrictions allow,” he said.
“We’ve got to work with clubs, and crowds, and understand what the restrictions are and what level is coming back. There’s a bit of work to be done.
“It is a challenging space and we want to get ahead of it.”
There are a lot of options on the table to finish off the season, but Bailey said the bottom line is that the league wants to just manage its way through and make sure the finals are played, even if that means fixtures are altered and home and away games potentially slashed.
“We’re committed to finishing the season,” he said.
“We believe we need to play home and away games before finals, but we’ll look at making sure each team is playing each other once.”
Another complicating factor is promotion and relegation between divisions, with Bailey reiterating that they will continue to work with the clubs to ensure a suitable outcome is reached, while crowd caps are bound to create more discussion with the strong likelihood that – similar to the last snap lockdown – the first round back could be played with no crowds allowed.
On other competitions governed by Outer East, the league confirmed on Tuesday evening that the junior season will resume with Round 14 for older age groups, while the first week of finals can commence for younger age groups when restrictions allow.
The Women’s and Veteran’s competitions will be begin with scheduled semi-finals when allowed, with no more home and away games to be played.
Grand final dates will be pushed back in line with resumption dates for these competitions.