Clubs, council opt against return to training

By Alex Mitchell

AFL Victoria's return to training protocols allow clubs to hit the fields tonight — but few, if any, clubs will be doing so.

Many clubs themselves voted to postpone the small group training that is allowed under the protocols, but the decision was taken out of many others’ hands, with a number still waiting on council approval to once again begin season preparations.

Beginning today, Victorian Government, AFL Victoria and Netball Victoria guidelines permit teams to train in groups of no more than 10 players, for non-contact training, with other protocols including not allowing access to club rooms and each club nominating a COVID Safety Officer that will undertake infection control training.

But clubs within the City of Greater Shepparton cannot return to club-sanctioned training until at least June 1, with council to not take formal bookings on its sporting grounds until then.

And even in regions where local councils would permit training, a handful of have opted against it, casting further doubt on a football and netball season that already hangs in the balance.

That doubt was further reinforced late last week when Heathcote District Football Netball League became the first country league to officially cancel its season, citing a myriad of factors including health and safety, financial implications and the "highly-unlikely" chances of full training returning by June 15, the latest date requested by its clubs.

At the time of writing, four Picola District league clubs — Tocumwal, Picola United, Katunga and Mathoura — had publicly announced they would not return to club-sanctioned training as of yet, with community health concerns their number-one priority.

Picola United president Brad Caldwell explained his club's decision, with health and safety, a lack of an apparent timeline on a season and huge workload on committee members all part of the reasoning.

“Our committee is really cautious about getting back to football and netball this year; as much as we want to we just don't think it's a great idea at this stage,” Caldwell said.

“Medical advice would tell you it's far from ideal with both being fairly contact-heavy sports, so that's part of it. In terms of not training, there's no certainty we'll be playing games, I don't believe we're very close to playing.

“As soon as we start training, the juniors will want to train too, so that's two or three senior nights plus another junior night we'll need to be at the club to fit with the protocols.

“Our reasoning for holding off on training is we don't feel it's safe, and it's far too much of a workload for the committee and coaches to be there potentially four nights a week.”

Caldwell noted at least six club figures in key roles were aged in their mid-60s or older, stating those "club legends" should be staying home.

“Number one, because it's not great for them, but number two, how does the club function without those people?" he said.

“I've been fairly vocal that I don't think it's a great idea to be playing this year.”

● Meanwhile, Goulburn Valley Suns will also be forced to wait another week before they can resume training.

While many of their National Premier League rivals have already started training or will begin this week, the council's decision will mean the Suns are playing catch-up when they eventually get back on the pitch.

Football Victoria is targeting an early July kick-off for the NPL2 campaign.