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  • Jason Regan

Lockdown doom for Country Sport in Victoria

It was inevitable. We all saw this lockdown coming and it could spell the end of regional winter sporting competitions for season 2021.

Once the whispers started circulating late Thursday evening that there were a significant number of COVID-19 cases in Shepperton we all knew what was coming.

Sport is a common denominator in regional Victoria. Whatever the winter sport you engage in, these competitions mean so much to so many. It's the meeting place for regional Victorians. The place where friends reconnect, frustrations of daily life are forgotten and local legends are born. Who doesn't love a good local footy story over a pot or two with friends? Sadly, it's looking more and more likely that this seasons story will be cut short.

Will regional clubs be denied this kind of joy in season 2021?

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed this morning that Victoria's lockdown is once again statewide. The lockdown will remain in place until at least September 2nd. It's a disaster for businesses across regional Victoria and the public health ramifications of COVID's delta variant are well understood by all.

Through the pandemic, Victoria has become the fear capital of Australia. Fear of the virus itself, fear of the next lockdown and the ramifications of these lockdowns on peoples lives, jobs and businesses. The uncertainly is jarring for people of all ages, of all religions, of all sexual preferences and all political persuasions. Sadly, fear has replaced sport in regional areas as the common denominator in regional Victoria.

I can't speak to the health advice received by the state government. It seems as though the reasoning behind these decisions is more top secret than the famed "Area 51". But regardless of how justified this lockdown may or may not be one thing is becoming clear. Football and netball seasons in regional Victoria are effectively doomed. What a shame that is.

Premier Andrews has confirmed the statewide lockdown will conclude on September 2nd. There is no certainty that the lockdown won't be extended by that date. History tells us that these lockdowns don't end with things returning to normal. Even if the lockdown does end on September 2nd, expect restrictions on crowd numbers at sporting events to remain in place.

Are finals matches in Country sport worth playing in front of no one? The AFL is flying its players around the country in the hope of playing in front of crowds in Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Tasmania. Sadly, the North Central and Sunraysia Football and netball leagues don't have such a luxury.

Add to the mix the coming school holiday's. The last day of term 3 in Victoria is September 17. If the regional lockdown has ended by then you can bet your last dollar families will be keen to head off on a holiday in different surrounds. This must be a consideration for any sporting competition when they decide how best to end their season.

That leaves a tiny, two-week window containing three weekends to get things finished. Probably without crowds and in an already seriously compromised season. Many competitions are likely to say it's all too hard. Who could blame them?

It's the uncertainty around these restrictions that makes planning a return so difficult. These country associations are run by volunteers who are already at the end of their proverbial tethers. They have stopped their seasons due to previous lockdowns, adjusted their programs, dealt with unhappy members who have felt hard done by under the changes made, and been forced to adjust again. Who is looking out for these people?

This week alone I've spoken with several such volunteers. Presidents and committee members, fed up with the constant phone calls and abuse from those unhappy with decisions made on how best to keep these seasons alive. Where is the support from the state government for these people? Where is community sports minister Ross Spence? Why is she not advocating for and publically supporting these volunteers?

State Premiers, Dan Andrews included, have enjoyed plenty of camera time throughout the pandemic. I can't remember a single occasion in which support for those people involved in organising local sporting competitions has been vocalised. Do they not matter? How much time in front of the media do Premiers and health ministers need before these people's plight is acknowledged?

I understand that in terms of the human toll of the pandemic that a mere country sports competition may not hold much importance to those in Springs Street. Tell that to those living in regional areas. These community clubs are the beating heart of regional Victoria. They need to be acknowledged as such and supported by their government. It's a disgrace that they haven't been so far.

These competitions, associations and their volunteers are casualties of the pandemic. They are under siege and at breaking point. Country people are resilient, but even they have their breaking point and many are approaching it.

Still images in the story are courtesy of the Horsham and District Football and Netball Facebook page.


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