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In the current climate of uncertainty as to whether there will be any local football played in Gippsland, the first domino fell on Wednesday night when the East Gippsland Football Netball League announced they would not be running a senior competition in 2020. In a statement released on their website, league president Andrew Powell stated:

In a recent survey the member clubs voted unanimously not to proceed with the 2020 season. The member clubs based their decision on current information available from the Chief Medical Officer, the Victorian Government and AFL Victoria/Netball Victoria.”

Concerns raised by the member clubs included uncertainty around a clear path back to return to play, uncertainty around how to generate revenue without the opening of bars and canteens-including social functions, the burden placed on volunteers, the inability to effectively manage crowds to comply with the State Government restrictions, health concerns with COVID-19 and varying financial implications.

This was quickly followed by the Mid Gippsland Football Netball League, who on Thursday night made a similar announcement to their East Gippsland counterpart. MGFNL president Gary Matthews said the decision to abandon the 2020 season was “the most socially responsible” one.

We have been in constant dialogue with our member clubs and agree the absolute and responsible actions moving forward should remain focused on the safety and welfare of all community members and club sustainability

We trust this decision will be viewed as a significant contribution to help end the threat of COVID-19 in Victoria despite the angst we know this decision will bring to many.

Both of these leagues made their announcements prior to AFL Victoria’s return to play protocols, which stated that there would be no limit to crowds as long as social distancing protocols were adhered to. Despite this, it did not stop the momentum of other leagues following suit.

Friday night saw two more Gippsland based leagues announce their non-participation in 2020 from a senior perspective. West Gippsland Football Netball Competition and North Gippsland Football Netball League both advised this season was a write off. While the WGFNC medial release was short and to the point, the NGFNL release was more detailed in their ultimate decision, which included the statement “We could not justify or envisage a return to ‘business as usual’ and nor are we prepared to risk the health and wellbeing of people nor club sustainability.”

Saturday afternoon saw Gippsland’s top tier competition, the Gippsland League, announce their departure from the 2020 season.  In their media release, it was stated:

Whilst it was disappointing to abandon the 2020 senior season the sustainability of all clubs has always been the priority.”

AFL Gippsland acknowledge the direction and unity amongst the club presidents during the most unprecedented times and congratulate them for their leadership. Together we now begin to put plans in place for the 2021 senior season, a season that promises to be like no other.”

Sunday was a rest day and a reprieve in terms of announcements. But the break was short lived when the Alberton Football Netball League released their own statement on Monday informing the public of their abandonment of their 2020 season. It is a double edged sword for the AFNL, who may also be facing a merger with the MGFNL before the 2021 season – which was a recommendation in the much-discussed G25 Colger Bauer report for AFL Gippsland. Should this merger occur, that would mean 2019 was the Alberton league’s swansong.

It has also been noted that AFL Gippsland’s Senior Women’s Competition will not go ahead either. At least two of the six teams have publically pulled out of the season and in Boisdale-Briagolong FNC’s own club statement, president Ryan Evans states that while their own women’s team were ready to go, they were advised that women’s competition is unlikely to proceed.

The Ellinbank & District Football League stated on June 4th that if restrictions weren’t eased or lifted by June 30th, there would be no senior season. On Tuesday, they were true to their word, announcing they would abandon not only their open age competition, but their juniors as well. The word on social media was the decision had already been made, however official word did not came through until Tuesday.

The final glimmer of hope to potentially see some local footy played in Gippsland this year lay with the Omeo & District Football Netball League. A statement released to ODFNL clubs by league president Ray Gallagher read that clubs could vote to participate in a 6 round season starting August 8th, with a Preliminary Final played on September 19th and a Grand Final on September 26th. Each team would play each other twice, with minor premiers going straight through to the big dance. It should be noted that two teams have indicated they will not play regardless of what decision is made, which means it would be a four team competition – should it go ahead.

In a meeting held on Wednesday July 1st, the ODFNL came to the decision that – like all other before them – they would not play an open age 2020 season. Thus spelled the end of any opportunity to see any senior footy in Gippsland.

On a positive note, majority of the leagues will be running their junior competitions in varying capacities. While this has received a mixed reaction at times, the majority of the feedback appears to be positive, as the ability for younger people to have access to sport is viewed upon very favourably by the general public.

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