Country football, netball seasons still in doubt

By Benalla Ensign

Further easing of government restrictions next month will be good news for some sporting clubs as they return to training.

But there is still uncertainty as to whether some Benalla teams will return to competition this year, as D-day looms closer for sports such as football and netball.

The first domino fell last week, with Heathcote District Football Netball League the first Victorian league to pull the plug on its premiership season, citing a myriad of factors including health and safety, financial implications and the "highly-unlikely" chances of full training returning by June 15, the latest date requested by its clubs.

Just yesterday, the Kyabram District League announced it would cancel its 2020 season.

Now it remains to be seen whether other leagues will follow their lead.

A decision regarding the Goulburn Valley League has been postponed until the week of June 8.

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After a meeting between the GVL board last Wednesday night and club presidents the Thursday prior, the region’s premier competition said it was awaiting further guidance from the Victorian Government.

In a post on Rochester Tigers’ Facebook page on Monday, the club said the league was still hoping for a July 18 return, playing an 11-round season with the grand final on Saturday, October 17 or Sunday, October 18 - though this would be reliant on crowds being allowed to attend.

The GVL has since denied these dates came from the league. 

“All clubs are really keen to play, but we just have to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved first and foremost. That date has not come from the league, there's been discussions, but there's been other dates and other possibilities of how a season might look," league operations manager Josephine Spencer said.

Crowds will be the biggest hurdle for some leagues returning, with clubs around the state expressing doubt if they could run a successful season without them.

The first COVID-19 restrictions announced in March stated leagues could not return to play before May 31, but as the window grows shorter, creative solutions to fixtures may be required.

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Last week AFL Victoria and Cricket Victoria announced they had come to an agreement over the use of grounds, giving football priority access to grounds until Sunday, October 18 at the latest.

AFL Victoria's head of community football Stephen O’Donohue thanked the team at Cricket Victoria for its work to reach this agreement.

“We are pleased to have reached this outcome for cricket and football in Victoria, sports that mean so much to many people in communities across the state,” O’Donohue said.

And while mandated training sessions have been permitted to begin this week, not all clubs have taken up the offer just yet, as clubs move to put the necessary protocols in place regarding safety, health, and their volunteers.

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A further easing of restrictions will come into place on May 31 and will see 20 people allowed to gather outside, which will assist with club training.

But it is far from what will be required to see football and netball return this year.