The AFL Goulburn Murray commission launched its Junior Football Future Directions Project on June 9, one of its major projects for this year.
The project has a focus ‘‘to examine the structure and format of junior football in the Goulburn Murray region and design and recommend a model for the future’’.
Junior football in the Goulburn Murray from under-18 and below encompasses more than 4600 players representing 215 teams competing in eight different leagues.
This does not include almost 1800 Auskick participants spread across 48 centres.
This diversity, both in governance and geographically, presents a number of challenges when it comes to ensuring we have the best model to recruit and retain junior footballers.
It is this model and its working components that will be evaluated in this project.
In a major undertaking, 27 community football representatives have been assembled into four project teams to discuss concepts, debate ideas and develop recommendations the steering committee will consider.
Project team members have been nominated by their league and represent all corners and junior football configurations in the region.
The launch of the project coincided with the release of an online survey, which has been distributed to all clubs in the region.
The response from the survey was excellent, with 69 per cent of clubs submitting their views on the 22 questions asked.
On June 28, the four project teams came together for the first time and the survey results were presented before each team broke away to consider their key focus areas.
Some of these key areas of discussion included the governance structure of the three standalone junior leagues, the age group structure in each league, the transition process from Auskick to club and then from junior to senior football, the rules, permits and interchange agreement in place between leagues and the application of the AFL junior match policy.
The feedback after the meeting has been positive and the steering committee will meet in the next week to consider the outcomes from the first meetings before the next round of project team meetings will be organised.
Once the project teams have completed their processes and developed their recommendations, the steering committee will consider and compile a draft report that will be presented in open forums this year.
A feedback window will then open for written submissions to be received before the final recommendations will be ratified by the commission for public release.
The release of this review has stimulated much discussion and debate, which is great.
However, it must be kept in mind that any changes to the structure will need to consider the broader impact.
For example, a scenario drawing attention in the public domain at the moment is the GVL playing under-16s on Saturday before the under-18s.
Let’s play this out.
There are 20 teams playing in two under-16 Sunday competitions in the region, 14 of them represent 10 GVL clubs.
Benalla (two teams) and Mansfield compete in the Wangaratta District junior league under-16s.
If the GVL started under-16s on Saturday morning and each club moved its Sunday under-16s into the Saturday morning time slot, the Shepparton District under-16s would be left with four teams and the Seymour junior competition would have six teams.
For these competitions to be unsustainable would actually result in reducing the overall participation opportunities in that age group.
This is without considering travel implications, match timings and other considerations.
While this does not eliminate this as an option, it is important we consider the domino effect of change and this is just one example of the many scenarios that will be considered and discussed during the project.
Importantly, the review has a process in place to consult all stakeholders and engage clubs in the decision making. Decisions made will be evidence-based and the project is being delivered as per AFL Victoria guidelines to ensure it is engaging, thorough and equitable.
We are committed to the process and the steering committee welcomes the input of football supporters and community members as we continue to evolve the structures surrounding junior football.
- Martin Gleeson, AFL Goulburn Murray general manager