By Sam Watson

AFL Victoria has released the return to training and games‘ protocols for the 2021 season and its left some local clubs scratching their heads.

The report was released on February 5 in conjunction with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.

The nine-page document outlines an extensive list of measures clubs must follow which includes the capping of patrons at 1000.
That means only 1000 people who aren’t players can enter the venue.

This has concerned many local clubs who are expecting big crowds to the much-anticipated return of football and netball.
Phillip Island president Chris Ross said he’s worried about the ability of volunteers to police the number of spectators coming through the gate.

“I don’t know how they expect volunteers to be able to keep an accurate count of how many people are in there,” Ross said.

“If there’s already 1000 people in there, how is a volunteer going stop people from trying to get in.

“Imagine you’ve got 1000 people in the ground and one of your great life members rolls up to the gate, can you expect a volunteer to refuse them entry.”

He’s also worried about the financial impacts that capping crowds will have.

“I think it’s going to have a real negative affect as far as the club’s possibility of making money.”

Phillip Island will be hosting old rivals Kilcunda Bass on Easter Saturday this year, which sometimes draws a crowd of nearly 5000.
The clubs were told at a league meeting last week they can apply for a permit to hold more spectators at certain games.

But according to Ross, the application is around 30 pages and may take the Department of Health and Human Services six to eight weeks to process.

“With what’s going on in Melbourne at the moment, there’s a fair chance they’ll just knock it back,” Ross said.

Kilcunda Bass president, Shea Eden shares Ross’ sentiment that it will be harder than expected to recover financially.

“You’re trying to catch up and raise as much money as you can on the back of a terrible year last year,” Eden said.

“Everyone’s in the same boat, but it does put a bit of pressure on when you are trying to raise a bit of money.

He’s also worried about the capability of volunteers dealing with the protocols.

“It’s just hard, we’ve all got so much to be doing then we get this on top,” he said.

Dalyston president, Andy Thomas certainly thinks the protocols are going to be a difficult task for his club.

“It’s very hard for volunteers to be able to do everything the government is wanting,” he said.

Thomas is also worried about the restrictions on the number of people in the social rooms.

“Who’s going to go round telling people that they’re not allowed in and tell them what they can’t do?”

“Are we going to hire security guards for it?”

But Thomas is mainly critical of the lack of empathy being shown towards community sport. “We understand the ramifications of it all, but there seems to be one rule for the rich and one for the poor,” Thomas said. “It’s a bit of a contradiction when we’re allowed 30,000 into the tennis centre and we’re getting restrictions on our local games.”

The grey area of the restrictions is certainly causing Thomas some headaches.

The limit on people doesn’t include players, but it doesn’t clarify if players are still considered so after their game finishes.

“Who’s going to take the time to figure out all of that?” Thomas said.

“There’s a few things that just don’t add up.” Thomas said his club will obviously do their best to adhere to the restrictions, but the government can’t expect anyone to be perfect.

Ross also backed him up when he said, “I’m not going to say it’s impossible but it’s going to be bloody hard.”

All the clubs are hoping the protocols can change before round 1 and they all agree, if there are no more outbreaks, things will surely settle.

Other key protocols include:
Gathering limits of 100 people.
Limit access to change rooms at all times to players and essential staff only.
Only players and officials are allowed on the ground during matches, including breaks, and at training.
Limit the coming together in tight huddles during training and quarter breaks.
No spectators on grounds during breaks or after the match.
Club rooms are permitted to open but it is recommended people refrain from spending lengthy periods inside for the purpose of socialising.
Face masks must be worn in indoor settings unless there is a lawful exception.
All clubs must have a COVID-Safe plan and each club must nominate at least one COVID Safety Officer who must undertake the Australian Government Infection Control Training.