AFL Gippsland commissioners’ shock forced resignation

Liam Durkin and Kate Withers

AFL GIPPSLAND Commissioners headed to Tuesday night’s May monthly meeting at Morwell Bowls Club with AFL Victoria expecting a robust discussion on the issues affecting football in the region.

The meeting opened at 6pm. Within five minutes, all six commissioners were sacked.

Amid concerns about the commission’s finances, with reported debts of up to $200,000, AFL Victoria asked the commission’s acting chairman John Schelling, John White, Greg Maidment, John Brookes OAM, Cayte Hoppner and Paul Buckley to step down.

AFL Victoria said their Gippsland body did not have sufficient funds and was trading insolvent.

The former commissioners, which included Sale past player John Brookes OAM, are believed to be devastated.

Speaking with the Latrobe Valley Express, outgoing commissioner John Schelling said he was “blindsided and gutted” by AFL Victoria’s decision.

“An enormous amount of work has been done in the last nine months and we were making slow but steady progress,” said Mr Schelling.

Mr Schelling confirmed AFL Gippsland imposed a levy on its clubs in 2017 in order to assist with its financial shortfall.

“We needed their support with the player levy and other issues we were going through,” he said.

He admitted AFL Gippsland was “between $100,000 and $200,000 in debt” and was told by AFL Victoria it would be “liable for any shortfall” if commissioners did not tender their resignations.

“We needed their financial support but [AFL Victoria] said they wanted to take a different route and this was probably one way of them moving us aside,” Mr Schelling said.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t quite dig ourselves out of this hole.

“They’re obviously not happy with the whole set-up but that’s not our fault or anyone else’s fault. There’s a lot of things that happened in 2015/2016 that drove the commission to make a number of decisions.”

Mr Schelling said a push from AFL Victoria that all leagues operate under a Regional Administration Centre “left [AFL Gippsland] in a financial hole”.

He maintained the overhaul of the AFL Gippsland Region Commission would mean a backwards step for football in the region.

“The Gippsland Football League was in a black hole when AFL Gippsland took over in 2015-16 and is now producing funds and clubs are stable and paying less,” Mr Schelling said.

“But we have made strategic decisions that haven’t been backed, such as the Alberton league, which has made it hard at times.

“Ben Joske as regional general manager was really making inroads into the way things are run and now all the trust will just have to be built up again.

“I just think we’ll have to start again now.”

In a statement, AFL Victoria said it had become apparent “that a fresh approach to the region was required”.

“AFL Victoria believes the changes will help further support football in Gippsland and ensure the best possible structure to deliver investment for the growth and development of Australian football in the region,” the statement reads.

“AFL Victoria thanks the AFL Gippsland Commission for their contribution to football in the Gippsland region and wishes them well in their future endeavour.”

In a statement, AFL Victoria said it was time for some new faces to head the commission.

“AFL Victoria advised that the AFL Gippsland commission resign, effective immediately,” the statement read.

“In discussions between AFL Victoria and the AFL Gippsland Commission, it became apparent that a fresh approach to the region was required.

“AFL Victoria will appoint an interim commission while it consults with local stakeholders on the makeup of a new commission. The AFL Gippsland Region Administration Centre will continue to operate in its current format and the changes do not impact on other regions.

“Whilst the AFL Gippsland Commission has worked in the best interests of the game in Gippsland, the time is right to revitalise the commission to progress the game.

“AFL Victoria believes the changes will help further support football in Gippsland and ensure the best possible structure to deliver investment for the growth and development of Australian football in the region.

“AFL Victoria thanks the AFL Gippsland Commission for their contribution to football in the Gippsland region and wishes them well in their future endeavours.”

All former commissioners were relatively new to the role, in “promot[ing] and grow[ing] the Australian football community in Gippsland through higher participation at all levels” and “providing leadership and support to the football and wider sporting communities”, according to the commission’s mission statement.

AFL Gippsland is one of 13 AFL Victoria regional commissions responsible for overseeing the governance of football in the region, and encompasses an estimated 130 registered clubs, seven shires, five umpire associations and 16 leagues.

AFL Victoria’s extraordinary decision comes as uncertainty continues throughout a number of Gippsland leagues, with all six Alberton clubs still looking for homes in 2020, and equalisation and junior participation rates continuing to be of concern across the region.

AFL Gippsland received six notices of appeal relating to the Ellinbank and District Football League’s response to transfer applications from the Alberton Football Netball League clubs.

All six member clubs of the AFNL submitted appeals against the EDFL’s decision to turn down the individual requests to join the league for season 2020.

The AFL Gippsland interim commission now has until June 3 to provide a ruling.

The commission will meet with AFL Victoria representatives to discuss the situation and appeal hearing process.