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17 June 2020
By DEAN LAWSON
A traditional and important socio-economic thread connecting communities across the region appears set to enter new territory as football and netball leaders ponder the future of their respective sports.
Football and netball, apart from being significant participation team sports, are an intrinsic part of Wimmera culture and how they emerge from the virus lockdown is likely to heavily influence regional recovery.
Horsham District Football Netball League has followed examples of other leagues and abandoned its 2020 senior season. Now regional football fraternity eyes are on Wimmera league.
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Both leagues represent a criss-crossing conduit of connectivity that carries, promotes and consolidates every-
thing from business activity and relationships to solidarity throughout the region.
Hockey and lawn bowls also have similar functions, with many people being able to trace their regional associations through sporting connections.
AFL Wimmera Mallee area manager Jason Muldoon said the fallout from COVID-19 restrictions had confirmed a long-held belief that football and netball clubs played a strong connective role in regional communities.
“We’ve certainly spoken about it a lot in the past, but we’ve never had such a physical test like this,” he said.
“There are many factors that come into play and personally I believe our biggest challenge isn’t 2020 – it’s 2021 and getting people back into the habit of going to the footy. It will take a lot of work to get it back to where we want it to be, especially for some of our more remote communities.
“It represents much more than sport – it can be the only meeting point where people can interact with other like-minded people and maintain contact with neighbours and friends.”
Mr Muldoon agreed the decision by Horsham District league board members and club representatives had been tough and while seniors were out of action, a challenge now was to find a structure to engage any juniors keen to play this year.
“There was no appetite for HDFNL to push a senior season deeply into October. As soon as it was apparent that you couldn’t fit a legitimate season into the time frame the decision was relatively easy,” he said.
“But what does the juniors look like? We’ve said to clubs that they need to come back to the board with numbers keen to participate.
“When we know that we can overlay what games might look like. It might even involve looking at inviting Kaniva-Leeor or Border Districts in for a social competition.”
Mr Muldoon said Wimmera Football League and Wimmera Netball Association, in a different circumstance with less clubs, would explore options in the next week.
“Under the latest rules they can still fit in a legitimate season, but we again need more clarity about what is possible regarding crowds before any decision can be made,” he said.
“Clubs have made it clear that allowing a crowd of up to 500 at a ground is necessary to make a fixture viable.
“We obviously need clarity surrounding this.”
Under latest State Government guidelines, senior community contact sports teams can resume full training from July 13. Full competition can start on July 20.
“We need to make a decision quickly, but we also need the right information to make that decision,” Mr Muldoon said.
The HDFNL decision followed discussions and a variety of concerns ranging from player numbers, finances and how to effectively manage crowds to comply with the State Government restrictions.
Kowree-Naracoorte-Tatiara league, which includes Border Districts and Kaniva-Leeor clubs, and North Central Football League have also abandoned their 2020 seasons.
The entire June 17, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!