Hit hard, clubs need more than cash
CLUBS HAVE FELT LEFT OUT IN THE COLD BY THOSE AT THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF THE GAME, AND PROMISES OF A SUPPORT PACKAGE FROM THE TOP REMAIN EMPTY WORDS THAT WON’T HELP TURN THE LIGHTS ON . . .
Community football and netball clubs were pushed to the brink in 2020 when their winter seasons were cancelled in all-but full.
There is an argument to be made though that 2021 could cause much more long-lasting damage to the fabric of clubs in the AFL Goulburn Murray region and beyond.
In the four senior AFL GM competitions that McPherson Media Group covers in full — Goulburn Valley, Kyabram District, Murray and Picola District — alone there are 54 clubs, and that’s without counting any of the standalone junior leagues in the area, or any other sports for that matter.
But this year, all of those clubs walked the exhausting tightrope of coronavirus restrictions, border changes, metropolitan exclusions and spectator bans — and did it not only through one lockdown cycle of shutting down and then easing out, but multiple times throughout the campaign until the season finally came to a spluttering halt last month.
The war of attrition has taken a toll at all levels of clubland, including volunteer, playing, sponsor and supporter bases, and with little to show for it when the dust settles it will be a tough ask for clubs to go through a similar experience next year.
So what is there to be done about it? First and foremost, clubs want to be heard. Secondly — they need help.
Echuca president Ash Byrne’s recent passionate words ahead of one of the various re-starts this season have stuck with me.
‘‘I reckon it’s an absolute disgrace that AFL Victoria has not communicated directly with all leagues and all clubs ahead of games this weekend,’’ he said at the time.
‘‘It’s an atrocious display from our governing body.
‘‘The amount of time clubs and volunteers have had to put in to decipher all of the restrictions and rules for this weekend is an absolute disgrace.
‘‘They only care about how many people are watching league footy and they’ve forgotten where those league footballers come from. It’s nothing short of disgraceful.’’
Clubs have felt left out in the cold by those at the highest levels of the game, and promises of a support package from the top remain empty words that won’t help turn the lights on or re-stock the fridges next season.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan continues to pledge help for all levels of the game, but immediate support is needed — the 2022 campaign is already upon us as clubs begin preparations.
‘‘It is one of our highest priorities to make sure we bounce back,’’ McLachlan told The Herald Sun last month.
‘‘The AFL will do everything it can to support community football next year, both here in Victoria and elsewhere.’’
But even when — or if — a significant monetary package is delivered to the doorstop of clubs, it cannot be just those at the top throwing dollars at the problem and expecting a quick fix.
The support must be targeted towards volunteer training and retention, junior participation programs and easing the burden of a spiralling bottom line in simple and effective ways like covering power and water charges.
Because handing clubs a bag of cash and bidding them good luck without a plan or a targeted strategy is just as labour-intensive for volunteer committees as giving them a 3300-word document to read and comprehend on their own in order to return to play.