AFL Vic responds to the G25

There are serious questions being asked of AFL Victoria over the future of footy and netball in the region. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By sports editor Russell Bennett

AFL Victoria has issued its long-awaited response to the G25 Strategy final report, and it makes for fascinating reading.

To address various concerns and develop a long-term plan for the region, AFL Victoria engaged Melbourne-based boutique strategy consulting firm ColganBauer to conduct an independent review into the structure of Gippsland football.

Its focus was on creating a structure to ensure the sustainability of the game in the region moving forward, with a view to developing a strategy for football in Gippsland otherwise known in some circles as the ‘Gippsland 2025 Strategic Plan’.

Overall, the G25 Strategy highlighted three key challenges – the declining participation base of football; current league structures that, it states, “are not sustainable”; and the model to support the running of football in the region having “broken down”.

The report contained 46 recommendations for AFL Victoria.

According to a release by AFL Victoria earlier tonight, all of those recommendations have been identified as “either worthy of implementation, or already contained within an existing analysis that can be further examined in order to incorporate suggestions put forward by the report’s independent authors, ColganBauer”.

AFL Victoria issued a 21-page response to the 98-page ‘G25 Strategy’.

Chief among the recommendations that AFL Victoria will adopt includes moving the Alberton clubs into the Mid Gippsland league in time for the 2021 season.

“AFL Victoria sees this strategy as providing long-term financial and competition security for clubs in both leagues,” its response states.

“The 2021 league format will provide an enhanced product for sponsorship and allow for an increased finals format if desired. AFL Victoria commits to working with both leagues to ensure the process is in the best interests of all clubs and stakeholders.”

Yet it’s understood some current Mid Gippsland clubs have discussed the possibility of leaving that competition with a view to joining neighbouring leagues.

Crucially, AFL Victoria will also adopt the recommendation to shift to a divisional football and netball model in the “western corridor” – involving both the West Gippsland Football Netball Competition, and the Ellinbank league.

This will be implemented “at the point of best fit before 2025”.

The original recommendation states that the clubs should develop the promotion-relegation criteria before the divisional structure is implemented.

In response, AFL Victoria stated: “AFL Victoria endorses this recommendation but will seek further consultation with local stakeholders over the viability of this format to meet the evolving needs of the community in West Gippsland.

“Both AFL Victoria and AFL Gippsland will engage with local leagues and clubs with the intention of determining the health and financial implications of Covid-19, and whether that position still supports a move toward a divisional football structure within the recommended timeframe.”

Back in June, all 12 West Gippsland Football Netball Competition clubs met with AFL Outer East as they explore their options moving forward.
It’s understood the options on the table in front of the clubs include: forming a new entity and going it alone as their own, separate competition away from AFL Gippsland; disaffiliating from AFL Victoria, creating a new league and going it alone; self-governing with an affiliation agreement with AFL Gippsland; maintaining the status quo; or entering into discussions with AFL Outer East – where they could be administered as an independent competition under the current West Gippsland model for an extended period of time.

AFL Victoria, meanwhile, is also set to adopt the recommendation to reduce the salary caps of all senior competitions throughout Gippsland.

Within the initial recommendation, it was suggested there needed to be an increase in the audit of clubs’ salary cap positions, with a new process put in place to ensure compliance.

AFL Victoria will adopt the recommendation, adding: “There is a state-wide understanding that the costs of operating football clubs need to be explored to enable clubs to survive post Covid-19”.

AFL Victoria will also conduct a review into the player points system currently used in Gippsland, and identify any possible improvements or revisions to incentivise junior player retention and development by the senior clubs.

AFL Victoria will also begin to transition all central Gippsland leagues (including the Traralgon District juniors, the Mid Gippsland league, and the North Gippsland league) to an under-14s and under-17 competition model.

There will also be a women’s football strategy developed specifically for Gippsland, in order to best promote and grow the women’s game throughout the region.

Another of the key recommendations to come out of the initial report was for AFL Victoria to provide clarity for leagues and clubs by better defining the roles and responsibilities of league administrators and football development managers (FDMs). It stated that the role of the FDMs should be communicated to all stakeholders, and captured on the AFL Gippsland website.

In its response, AFL Victoria said it would adopt that recommendation and is “currently undertaking analysis of its staffing structure to best support community football post Covid-19”.

The Morwell-based Regional Administration Centre (RAC) has come under constant fire from some parts of the region, with the Gippsland League and West Gippsland Football Netball Competition the only senior competitions currently run out of there.

One of the recommendations in the G25 strategy was to create a club development/sustainability role to provide specialist support to Gippsland clubs regarding their challenges around sustainability.

AFL Victoria will also develop this recommendation.

Another criticism from Gippsland football and netball circles was centred on the number of past reviews that weren’t seen to be acted on sufficiently enough.

AFL Victoria said it recognises the importance of implementing change quickly, to allow stakeholders to plan for 2021; and will also adopt the recommendation to develop a working group made up of a mixture of AFL Victoria, AFL Gippsland, league, and club representatives to be responsible for the implementation of the recommendations.

A significant talking point that will come out of AFL Victoria’s response is its adoption of the recommendation to redefine the role of the AFL Gippsland commission to act as an advisory board that sets the strategic direction for football in the region.

“During 2019, AFL Gippsland was operating at a loss,” the initial G25 report stated.

“As a result, the AFL Gippsland Commission resigned and were replaced by an interim commission. The current commission does not include anyone from the local area (Gippsland).”

That report also acknowledged that, after the implementation of the Morwell-based RAC, several leagues left “citing poor service levels or increasing costs as the primary reasons”.

It then adds: “Without changes, the existing model is likely to fail”.

AFL Victoria’s response agrees that it should implement “a continuous improvement model to refine business processes and identify points of failure”, saying, simply, in its response to that recommendation: “AFL Victoria and AFL Gippsland will work collaboratively toward implementing process improvements”.

Another hot topic of discussion stemming from the initial report was having the RAC report directly to AFL Victoria, rather than the AFL Gippsland commission.
This recommendation, too, was adopted saying AFL Victoria staff within the region “along with other AFL Victoria staff based at AFL House will be utilised to better train and resource AFL Gippsland staff moving forward, with the aim of improving services in the region”.

The G25 Strategy final report highlighted the need “to reverse the deterioration of AFL Victoria’s relationship with the region”, and stated that “the reputation of the RAC in the region is currently negative, with leagues highlighting RAC costs as an issue”.

The report also stated that, under the current country football regional structure across the state, “AFL Victoria appears to have reduced the level of support of country football; (and) they also provide limited oversight of what was occurring at a regional level and have limited control over the commissions.

“In Gippsland, this led to a situation where the commission did not have the appropriate support to deliver the services.

“The relationship between AFL Victoria and participants in the region is hostile.
“There have been several changes implemented by AFL Victoria in Gippsland that have not been viewed positively by participants.
“The rationale for decisions has been poorly communicated to participants, and there is limited contact by AFL Victoria with some clubs and leagues.”

As part of AFL Victoria’s newly-released response to the G25 Strategy, head of community football Steve O’Donohue said: “The health and safety of the community, together with club and league sustainability, has been the priority of all clubs and leagues in the Gippsland region.

“We are committed to making football better and stronger for all participants in Gippsland and we thank everyone who has provided feedback through the consultation process of this report to ColganBauer.”

The initial G25 interim report was released back in March, and left many stunned.
That 86-page report made a series of draft recommendations and was criticised in some corners for its lack of focus on the premier league in the Gippsland region, the Gippsland League.
The same criticism was also levelled at the final Strategy report, as well as a perceived lack of attention given to netball in the region.