Crunch time for regional football

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Lechelle Earl, owner/editor

Crunch time for regional football

The most talked about topic in the Limestone Coast sporting community is nearing a conclusion after the Limestone Coast Regional Football Council sent its findings to the SANFL.

Having held talks with every club competing in the Western Border, Mid South Eastern and Kowree Naracoorte Tatiara competitions, armed with months’ worth of stats and opinions, the LCRFC board held a meeting last Wednesday to collate the final report on the future of community football and netball.

Council chair Trevor Smart said all the LCRFC, clubs, leagues, associations and sport lovers can do now is wait with bated breath until the SANFL have the final say after analysing the findings.

“We met last week, considered all of the consultation (with clubs) and have completed the final report, which has been provided to the SANFL,” he said.

“We will meet with the SANFL over the next week or so to hear their thoughts and considerations on it.”

The emergence of a final report is a significant moment in one of, if not the biggest undertaking in the 127-year history of football in the Limestone Coast.

After a period of planning the process kicked off with a meeting between every club, league and association in the region at Naracoorte back in June.

Two months later the LCRFC released a discussion paper covering all aspects of country football in the Limestone Coast, highlighting the reasons why change might be needed in the future for the sport to maintain its significant place in the community and put forward four examples of what that could look like.

The following phase saw LCRFC board members meet with representatives from every football and netball club in the region to ensure everyone had their say.

Amazingly Smart said the meetings with all 25 clubs were completed within five days and he was pleased with how they transpired, but conceded many do not want change.

“All involved were quite accommodating with meetings in Bordertown, Millicent, Naracoorte and Mount Gambier over five nights,” he said.

“We gave them half an hour each and were appreciative of the efforts from all clubs to voice their opinions.

“There were no significant surprises like different models, but there was a strong feel from a lot of clubs saying they are happy with the status quo approach.

“But some could see looking down the track change could happen organically or proactively, while others were less accepting which was no real surprise.”

Smart said he hopes to meet with the SANFL as early as next week with the full details expected to be released next month, with the date Monday, November 15 mooted.

“At this stage subject to SANFL’s thoughts, we will meet with them next week informally,” he said.

“We hope to have feedback and any recommendations on the final report at the footy committee meeting in mid November.”

Of the current trio of competitions, it is clear the Western Border Football League is the one most vocal for change.

The WBFL initially instigated the historic meeting, but now league president Michael Summers is getting concerned about where the process is heading after being “kept in the dark” as last Wednesday’s meeting exclusively consisted of the nine board members of the council.

“Western Border wants something happening for change in the future, but it is getting a little bit frustrating because it is out of our control and things are not happening,” he said.

“The council has been slow and the SANFL has used COVID as an excuse, which should not be an excuse.

“They said they were going to be on the front foot and get an answer to us by November, but it could go into December when everyone is on leave.

“We really wanted something to happen in 2022, but that probably will not happen and it will be business as usual.”

But Smart said a key part of the plan was ensuring the majority of the process was completed by a separate team of relatively independent individuals.

“We are not concerned because everyone had the opportunity to put their points of view forward,” he said.

“As an independent council it is our role to come up with what we consider is the most sustainable model moving forward.

“So, depending on what the SANFL’s position is, we will reengage with leagues and clubs to work through the final report and see where that may take us.”

The general feeling around the community is the MSEFL and KNTFL are both quite happy with the current model of all three leagues minding their own business.

MSEFL president Peter Mitchell said the heart of his league continues to beat strong.

“I have not spoken to all nine clubs individually yet, but in essence a lot of them are happy with the competition and structure we have now,” he said.

“The clubs are concerned if changes happen, where they will be told to go and what happens to the juniors.

“We have only had one change since 1966 and that was Tarpeena going out in 2003.

“It is structured around similarly small communities that are reasonably close geographically, while the relationships the clubs have together make our league a little bit unique.

“Yes, things could get better, but we are very happy with the competition and structure we have.”

Summers said the WBFL’s push for a new future was sparked by its six competing clubs.

“It is what all of the clubs have asked, they want change because they are sick of playing each other every three weeks,” he said.

“Mount Gambier is a massive regional town and it should have more than six sides.

“The stats show in the meeting junior numbers are down and travelling players are increasing, which cannot be sustained in the next few years, so we just tried to instigate some talks.

“There needs to be a rethink of Limestone Coast football because we want change for the future and it is going to happen.”

The report’s recommendations on the future of football and netball will only be implemented if a “catalyst” occurs and Smart reaffirmed he does not expect the landscape to be reshaped ahead of the 2022 season.

“We have to wait and see what the SANFL’s position is,” he said.

“There are a couple of choices such as waiting for organic change or try to implement proactive, so it could be a blend of both.

“We do not envisage any change to the 2022 season because we are looking beyond that.”

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