Sweeping changes proposed

Kate Withers

THE landscape of Gippsland football looks set to undergo some sweeping changes with the release of an independent review into the state and future of the game across the region.

The Gippsland 2025 Strategic Plan, prepared by consultancy firm Colgan Bauer and commissioned by AFL Victoria, was unveiled and distributed to leagues and clubs on Tuesday.

The G25 draft report makes several recommendations about how to best structure football and netball competitions across Gippsland to ensure the future of both sports.

It is separated into three key areas – ‘playing the game’, ‘growing the game’ and ‘running the game’ – and analyses competition structures, player participation and administration.

One of the most jarring recommendations for football in the Latrobe Valley and central Gippsland would see a full restructure of junior competitions including the North Gippsland and Mid Gippsland football-netball leagues and Traralgon and District Junior Football League.

If implemented, the TDJFL under 16s competition, which has incorporated Sale and District junior league clubs, would be scrapped.

The NGFNL would remove its under 18s competition in place of an under 17s competition, while the MGFNL would abolish under 16s and 18s competitions in place of a single under 17s division.

In its rationale for the junior changes, the report submits: “Lower population growth in central Gippsland areas (Latrobe Valley and Wellington) … will impact participation levels into the future”.

“By aligning to the Football-Netball East Gippsland’s U14s/U17s structure across half the region, clubs will have greater ease to fill sides, given less overall age brackets, and promote greater sustainability”, it reads.

Other ‘playing the game’ recommendations suggested salary caps across all Gippsland senior competitions should be reduced and the player points system reviewed to incentivise junior retention.

Another ‘playing the game’ recommendation is to “alter the structure” of three senior competitions.

Phase one proposes two clubs move from the West Gippsland league to the Alberton league, meaning the former would revert to a 10-club competition and the latter to an eight-club one.

As part of phase two, and arguably the most contentious of all the G25 recommendations, is a massive “shift to a divisional structure in the west, combining the Ellinbabnk and District Football League and West Gippsland Football-Netball Competition”, ahead of the 2025 season.

Perhaps one of the most contentious points in the report is the first ‘running the game’ recommendation, which suggests AFL Victoria establish a timeline for the implementation of the G25 strategy within six weeks of the release of the final report.

It also advises a full reset of the AFL Gippsland commission, including a recruitment process to help identify new commissioners.

The new Gippsland commission, however, would not oversee the Regional Administration Centre, which – under another recommendation – would instead be answerable to AFL Victoria.

A two-month consultation process has been launched, involving formal written submissions and four meetings, which will take place across the region.

The final report will be submitted to AFL Victoria on April 30.

AFL Victoria, AFL Gippsland, and Gippsland clubs, leagues and individuals who wish to formally respond to the report and its recommendations are invited to make submissions as part of the consultation process.

Submissions must be made by April 10.