BY SEB MOTTRAM
The Eastern Football Netball league (EFNL) and Northern Football Netball league (NFNL) are the first major Victorian AFL leagues to call off their 2020 season, succumbing to the limitations of COVID-19.
The netball fixtures for both leagues have also discontinued for the 2020 season after it was found to not be feasible to run, however the junior football season will continue.
The call was made after clubs sought an imminent decision on the matter, with the hope that this early call will now ease financial strain on clubs as they stop training for the season.
The statement expresses both leagues’ desire to begin the 2021 season in a similar position to how they are currently placed, as playing through the COVID-19 pandemic would likely have threatened this hope.
Former captain of Knox Football Netball Club’s women’s team Lisa Walshe said she “doesn’t understand” the EFNL’s decision and why juniors can play but seniors cannot.
“I’d prefer them [the EFNL] to make a decision [early] like they have, but I am disappointed that was the decision they’ve made,” Walshe said.
Walshe, 33, has played AFL throughout the winter for the past 16 years and is now disappointed that 2020 will break this streak.
“[Allowing the competition to go ahead] could have been a real positive with all that’s going on [due to COVID-19],” she said.
EFNL media spokesman Matt Fotia told MOJO News there were “too many hurdles” to continue playing footy this season.
“As much as everyone who plays loves footy and everyone at the office loves footy…we just couldn’t ask teams to train for a date that might never come,” Mr Fotia said.
“The majority of clubs weren’t willing to take the risk.”
The EFNL and NFNL are not the first football leagues to opt for the early exit of season 2020, with smaller leagues such as Heathcote District Football Netball League also pulling the plug in late May.
However, the huge size of the EFNL and NFNL, with more than 20,000 participants between them will prompt questions over the likelihood of other large leagues going ahead once restrictions are further loosened.
“We weren’t the first domino to fall, and I suspect we won’t be the last,” Mr Fotia said.
However, CEO of South Football Netball League (SNFL) Lee Hartman said his league’s decision on whether to continue the 2020 season will not be a result of what other Victorian AFL leagues have decided.
“We won’t let that [the EFNL and NFNL’s decision to cancel their season] impact us at all,” Mr Hartman said.
“While we all want to see some footy this year, we won’t rush any decision that could compromise player and community safety.”
Mr Hartman has worked hard to keep clubs and players updated on the continually changing COVID-19 regulations, however he believed the clubs’ patience will not continue to last.
“Our clubs have indicated to us that they want a decision towards the end of June, so we have until then. We won’t rush this date forward,” he said.
There are around 170,000 local and junior football participants throughout Victoria, the majority of whom are currently awaiting changes to the state guidelines on local sport.
Contact sport and competitive sport have both been banned in Victoria during the pandemic, with these two rules needing to change to allow the return of amateur football in the state.
AFL Victoria last week penned an open letter to the Victorian Government asking for a clear “roadmap” as to how local AFL leagues can return.
The letter asked for contact training to restart on June 29, followed by matches to resume on July 11, however it is unclear if the state government will support this timeline.