By sports editor Russell Bennett
Community football netball clubs have long been crying out for AFL House to listen to their concerns about the game at the grassroots, and it appears AFL House has been listening.
The AFL has announced it will boost the game at the local level by $18 million from 2020 to 2022, while also waiving the highly-publicised and much-criticised AFL affiliation fee.
That alone is set to save footy regions more than $3.2 million per year over the next three years.
Also announced was $3 million to fund volunteers, while it’s understood the financial burden associated with buying guernseys, socks and shorts from the AFL’s preferred suppliers will also be lessened.
The Herald Sun first reported that the funding would directly benefit more than 840 clubs and about 90,000 players, with the South East, Outer East and Gippsland regions set to save more than $450,000, $395,000, and $280,000 respectively each year.
Umpire registration fees are also destined for the scrap heap.
Star News and the Berwick-Pakenham Gazette first broke the story of the sacking of the AFL Gippsland region commission back on 14 May, which kick-started a chain reaction – highlighting, in many publications across the country, the unrest that exists within many clubs when it comes to uncertainty surrounding their long-term futures.
That story had wide-ranging ramifications across Victorian football and netball, not just the sports in the Gippsland region.
Former AFL Gippsland commissioner John White spoke to the Gazette on the night of the commission’s sacking, saying the decision “has long-term implications for the direction of football throughout the Gippsland region”.
In regards to the latest developments, he told the Gazette: “It’s nice to have the AFL acknowledge that the volunteers in community football are being heard, and the AFL is listening.
“This contribution they’re making here is a start towards a program of reconstructing community football.
“The additional $3 million to be spent is also a major win, which – if utilised correctly – will take a lot of pressure off volunteers.
“I’ll continue to watch and participate in future developments, which will flow from this announcement.”
Clubs throughout the area had started looking closely at their own backyard long before that fateful day in May. They clearly wanted more control of their own destiny. But May the 14th highlighted it.
Then, growing numbers of football and netball people started urging AFL House to hear the voice of the bush – before, they feel, it’s too late, and irreparable damage has been done.
White set up a Change.org petition calling on AFL House to listen to those at the grassroots level.
He also wrote a letter to AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan calling for a true “community engagement model” in a review into regional and community football.
“Our call for an independent review of the relationship between AFL Victoria and regional, (or) country football and netball is driven by the communities who rely on their clubs in galvanising the hard-working volunteers serving those communities,” it said.
“The cost of administration has risen, the need for volunteers has increased, and yet there remains questionable support from AFL Vic – don’t believe me? Go ask (the) people who toil each weekend trying to keep their clubs active and their heads above water.”