By sports editor Russell Bennett
The path forward for competitive senior and junior football and netball in 2020 has become that little bit clearer with the release of key documents from AFL Victoria and Netball Victoria late last week.
AFL Victoria has released its long-awaited Return to Play protocols, while Netball Victoria has also released its Return to Community Netball Guidelines. Clearly though, decisions on whether or not specific competitions will actually return to play this year are being made on a much more local level.
Some have already announced their stances, while others are set to do the same in the coming days.
The Eastern Football Netball League is among the most high profile competitions so far to have pulled the pin on 2020.
AFL Victoria’s Return to Play Protocols state, in part, that: “Returning to play in a safe, hygienic and controlled manner is paramount to the AFL.
“The safety and wellbeing of our participants is our number one priority. Following the Victorian State Government advice around the return of community sport, AFL Victoria endorses a return to club-sanctioned training and matches, provided participants follow the relevant Victorian State Government guidelines and AFL Victoria’s Covid-19 guidelines are implemented.
“In advance of returning to training and competitions, we encourage leagues, clubs and volunteers to digest the protocols, formulate an education and implementation plan for their club following which they would go through an education period and prepare their club to return to play safely.
“We will continue to work with the State Government to ensure alignment with their advice, with hygiene and safety protocols firmly in place. Our primary focus is preparing to return to play in a safe environment in a well-prepared and educated manner. In order for the return to play to be successful, and in line with Government advice, it is essential that clubs and individuals work within the timelines and protocols and do not move ahead of the level and restrictions in place.”
Arguably the biggest factor when it comes to a realistic return to play – particularly when it comes to senior football and netball – has been the public gathering restrictions.
Those restrictions essentially dictate how many people can pay to enter grounds, and therefore the money clubs can make from gate, canteen, and bar takings.
There’s no mention of specific crowd limits in AFL Victoria’s Return to Play Protocols, but under the section ‘Spectators’ it states:
• Any attendance at community football matches by spectators will always be strictly compliant with government directions and restrictions.
• Spectators for training and competitions must abide by public gathering restrictions. Spectators should be in groups of no more than 10 people in open, outdoor venues and spread out around the ground or venue. Spectators must keep 1.5 meters apart.
• Gathering limits will not apply to participants and those reasonably necessary to conduct the training or competition (e.g. umpires, coaches).
• Where venues allow for vehicle access surrounding the oval, spectators are encouraged to remain in their vehicle (subject to Government advice regarding risk for spectators viewing from vehicles, e.g. cohabiting family/household members only).
• It is the participating clubs’ responsibility to monitor crowd social distancing and if required they can liaise with police to enforce social distancing protocols.
From Monday last week (22 June), full-contact training and full-contact competitions were able to resume for those 18-years-of-age or under, without a limit on the number of participants – though gathering rules apply for spectators.
For people 18-years-of-age and under, groups of 20 are no longer relevant – the Return to Play Protocols state – and full squads can train together.
Clubrooms at community football venues can have up to 20 people per indoor space, as long as the four square-metre rule is met.
Signage must be displayed at the entry to each indoor space outlining the maximum number of people allowed at a single time.
Spectators for training and competitions must abide by public gathering restrictions – for example, spectators should be in groups of no more than 10 people in open, outdoor venues and spread out around the ground or venue. They also must keep one-and-a-half meters apart.
Crucially – subject to the advice of Victoria’s Chief Health Officer and the continued management of the spread of coronavirus – adults can resume full-contact training from 13 July, and full-contact competition from 20 July.
Some competitions, therefore, would be racing against the clock to be able to hold a senior season that begins from 20 July.
Netball Victoria’s latest update – from 22 June – reads, in part:
– Indoor venues could open for the purpose of sport and recreation.
– People 18 years and under were able to resume full contact training and competition, at both indoor and outdoor venues.
– Adults could participate in non-contact training in groups of up to 20 – plus a coach – at both indoor and outdoor venues.
“Adults will have to wait a little longer to return to competition. We expect further clarification on this in July,” the update read.
“Netball Victoria Affiliates and clubs are required to adhere to the Return to Community Netball guidelines. Naturally, we will continue to prioritise the health and wellbeing of both the individuals involved our sport, as well as the wider community as we work toward a safe return to training and competition in this new Covid-19 environment.”
Hallam was recently identified as one of 10 suburbs with a “community transmission challenge”, as Premier Daniel Andrews plans to test 100,000 people from high risk areas.
He likened the current community transmission crisis to a “public health bushfire”.