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Health must be top priority, minister tells impatient AFL Victoria


Ms Spence said on Tuesday that while she wanted community leagues to resume, the government would not take any undue risks and would ultimately be guided by the state’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

“We’re all keen to see a return to competition but public health must remain the number one priority,” Ms Spence told The Age.

“The actions of Victorians in making sacrifices and observing restrictions have helped to save lives.

“Decisions on the resumption of sporting competition will be based on the Chief Health Officer’s advice.”

In his letter, Bell had praised the minister for her role in handling the crisis.

“Your willingness to bring the sector together to listen to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our organisations and communities has been greatly appreciated. The response from government to provide significant support packages in the form of the $40 million Victorian community sport sector short-term survival program, and the $68 million towards community sporting infrastructure, under the building works program, have been extremely well received across all of our stakeholders,” he wrote.

However, Bell urged the government to up the ante in order to protect the “$1.35 billion – total annual economic contribution of football in Victoria outside of the AFL/AFLW clubs/competition”, as well as the game’s sizeable social impact.

“The uncertainty of not knowing if or when a competition can commence in Victoria is causing significant fatigue for our club volunteer network. In most instances they are now at a stage where they would prefer the certainty of cancelling a season, than continuing to manage the ongoing uncertainty and not being able to respond with any clarity to their club players and members,” Bell wrote.

“In recent days, we have already seen three community leagues in Victoria cancel their seasons [Heathcote, Millewa and Kyabram] and we expect this trend will continue without a clear return to competition roadmap. A number of leagues have indicated to us that they will make a decision on cancelling their season should no clarity be provided by the June long weekend [or Friday 5th June].

“We see a major risk that when participants and volunteers fall out of the routine and habit of participating, they are harder to re-engage in the sport. It is critical that we maintain this connection in coming months or risk a decline in participation and associated longer-term ramifications for community health and wellbeing.”

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