Huge changes proposed for Gippsland

Football and netball in Gippsland is seemingly set for more uncertainty following the release of the G25 strategy draft report. 179445 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By sports editor Russell Bennett

Many volunteers, committee members, players, clubs, and even whole leagues throughout Gippsland have felt like sitting ducks as they’ve readied themselves for the long-awaited unveiling of the Gippsland 2025 Strategic Plan.

And today, the review – driven by AFL Victoria and backed by the sport’s governing body – was released, and has already left many stunned.

The Gazette has seen a copy of the ‘G25’ draft report, which was prepared by independent body ColganBauer, who was engaged by AFL Victoria to conduct a review into how to best structure local football and netball in the region moving forward.

And it makes for incredible reading.

The report is structured into three key areas: ‘playing the game’, ‘growing the game’, and ‘running the game’.

The first covers competition structures (among other facets), the second covers issues such as trends in the player base of Gippsland football, and the third covers the administration model in Gippsland.

And all three will now be under a huge microscope.

The very first ‘playing the game’ recommendation is to restructure three of Gippsland’s senior competitions.

It proposes moving two clubs from the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition into the neighbouring Alberton League – the prospect of which has caused no end of angst from the southern-based WGFNC clubs.

That proposal is tabled as ‘Phase 1’ and is set to take place ahead of the 2021 season.

It would involve Alberton reverting to an eight-club competition, and West Gippsland a 10-club competition – which it was for its first two seasons in 2017 and 2018.

“A major issue raised by the majority of leagues/clubs in the region was the sustainability of the Alberton Football Netball League’s current six-team competition,” the report reads.

“Shifting two clubs from West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (12-team competition) to Alberton Football Netball League will enhance league sustainability (player attraction, retention and financial sustainability) in the long-term. It will also contribute to improve the competitive balance in the West Gippsland competition”.

‘Phase 2’ is planned to be implemented ahead of 2025, and that includes a massive planned structural change – to shift to a divisional structure for the Ellinbank and District Football League, and the WGFNC… effectively merging the two.

Other key proposals in the 86-page report include aligning the junior age bracket structure in central and eastern Gippsland to under-14s and under-17s; reducing salary caps across the region; reviewing the player points system (PPS) to incentivise junior retention and development; having AFL Victoria devise a women’s football strategy for Gippsland; having AFL Victoria take greater accountability for the development of grassroots footy in the region; and implementing a ‘club improvement program’ (CIP), which would lead to a bigger investment by AFL Victoria.

Crucially, the first two ‘running the game’ recommendations are for “AFL Victoria to establish a timeline for implementation of G25 strategy within six weeks of the release of the final report”, and to “develop a working group made up of a mix of AFL Victoria, AFL Gippsland, leagues and clubs to be responsible for the implementation of the recommendations”.

It’s also proposed that the AFL Gippsland commission would be “reset, and a recruitment process conducted to identify new commissioners”.

The report acknowledges that “the current members of the Gippsland commission are not local community members.

“In order to have a commission that can make the most informed decisions based on understanding of local issues, the AFL Gippsland commission should be reset”.

Fascinatingly though, there’s also a proposal for the Regional Administration Centre (RAC) to report to AFL Victoria’s “country football team” – not the AFL Gippsland commission.

The draft report’s release now leads directly to a two-month consultation process including formal, written submissions and four ‘town hall’ style meetings taking place throughout the region.

Submissions are invited by AFL Victoria, AFL Gippsland, and Gippsland clubs, leagues and individuals who wish to formally respond to the report and its recommendations.

The cut-off date for written submissions is 10 April, and they should be sent in a document format to aflgippsland@colganbauer.com.

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