By sports editor Russell Bennett
Following yesterday’s Victorian State Government announcement that all metropolitan local government areas – including the Yarra Ranges, Cardinia, and Casey – would return to Level 3 restrictions and a lockdown for the next six weeks, AFL Outer East has cancelled all its football and netball competitions for 2020.
In a statement released by AFL Outer East chairman Tony Mitchell and region general manager Aaron Bailey, it was made clear that the region has a responsibility to its community, clubs, and participants “to provide clarity in such uncertain times, to prioritise health and safety in our community, and to minimise the significant burden and stress on our volunteer network”.
Mitchell and Bailey continued: “We understand that we will have many disappointed footballers, netballers, coaches, and community following this news.
“The staff and commission of AFL Outer East share this disappointment. As a community we are passionate about football, netball, our clubs, and competition, but we face an unprecedented situation, beyond any of our control.
“Our position has been throughout this process that we would exhaust every avenue to return to football and netball this year, until a return was no longer possible. We feel we have done this, however with no guarantee of a return post lock down, continuing to hold off for a return would be irresponsible on our behalf and unfair on our community.”
The Gazette reported last week on the Outer East’s decision to cancel its senior football season, and yesterday’s State Government announcement of a return to a Stage 3 lockdown for the next six weeks left it with no choice but to pull the pin on the rest of its competitions.
Community sport is not allowed under Stage 3 rules.
Looking ahead to 2021, AFL Outer East is keen on ensuring that participants in “transition” age groups can enjoy their final year with their team mates and clubs, before moving into Saturday, open-age football.
Therefore, Mitchell and Bailey announced that AFL Outer East has transitioned to odd age core age groups – under-9s, 11s, 13s, 15s, 17s, and 19s – from 2021.
“This move will see our football and netball age groups align, as well as enable us to have all participants in development/talent age groups playing in the same age groups moving forward,” the statement read.
In regards to player registrations, AFL Outer East is offering two options for participants who’ve already paid their registration fees for season 2020 – a refund of the fee to the participant, or the player registration fee being provided to the club.
The process of refunding registration fees will begin in August, once all fees and completed registrations have been audited and confirmed.
According to AFL Outer East, “Netball Victoria have advised that they will be making a decision on their process for VNAs over the next few months”.
AFL Outer East has announced it will be working with all clubs over the coming months to provide support and guidance through such a challenging period – adding that a particular focus will be on ensuring that the region’s volunteers and committees are well-supported.
Outer East also announced that it will look to provide development programs for football, netball, and umpiring through the spring and summer.
“We will utilise the lockdown period to develop programs, events, and days for our junior participants to participate in, and engage with through the off-season,” the statement read.
AFL Outer East thanked all its clubs, volunteers, officials, umpires, players, sponsors, commercial partners, and the broader community for its support and cooperation through such unprecedented times.
“We are immensely proud of the way our clubs, community and staff have met this challenge head on,” Mitchell said.
“Though disappointed there will be no football or netball in 2020, we now shift our focus to returning bigger and better in season 2021.
“Please stay safe and we urge all associated with our respective communities to heed the advice and regulations in place by order of the State Government.
“We all have a role to play in ensuring that our community remains safe and healthy and that we can all return to football and netball in season 2021.”