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EDITORIAL: Crossroads for mainstream sport

Issues surrounding community regional sport might seem trivial when compared with all that’s happening across the state, country and around the world.

Pondering the future of community football, netball or other sporting clubs, leagues and associations probably sits at the far end of the queue when considering what’s most important for society.

This is obviously true when we consider sport in simple isolation. But it gets a bit more complicated when considering sport in the overall picture of Australian culture and sensibility.

The reality has been, love, hate or feel ambivalent about it, sport has been an integral pillar supporting broad social and cultural growth, structure and health — particularly in regional areas such as the Wimmera.

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In some cases, barracking or following a home team, regardless of success, has provided people with personal opportunities of representation. And in generating community solidarity it can be more valuable than gold in generating confidence and a sense of connectivity in regional communities.

We can’t help but wonder whether this sense of tribalism through sport in our region is headed for profound change — especially as we try to emerge from the impact of a worldwide pandemic.

Evolutionary change has always been part of the Wimmera’s mainstream sporting landscape, usually based on changing demographics. 

Some changes have historically been profound and suspicions are that we could be well on the cusp of another right-angle turn.

General word from the start of regional football season last week was that there was a dramatic shortage of players to fill teams adequately and appropriately.

News of players coming out of retirement in their 40s and even their 50s to fill reserves teams and clubs playing with the bare minimum number of participants sent up a mighty red flag — a flag we’ve seen before. It is a scenario, along with the loss of volunteers, that many mainstream sporting leaders had feared and warned about when the pandemic, at its height, had put sport into recess.

Make no mistake. The next big shuffle involving clubs and competitions, some which have represented their communities for many decades, is the in the wind.

We don’t know for sure, but it might be that if preserving the foundations of mainstream community sport is important as many believe, the structure of Wimmera district football and netball leagues and their clubs could look significantly different — sooner rather than later.

We’ve heard the comment ‘there’s too many clubs and not enough players’ for years, and it could be that we’re about to hit the wall.

Regional sporting institutions have been the subject of passionate and dedicated support through generations of Wimmera families. Many have considered their survival a must.

But as the dust settles with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, will they retain pride of place on the regional mantel? We’re unsure. 

The entire April 13, 2022 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!