Bendigo league pulls the pin on 2020 by Richard Jones

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There’ll be no senior footy and netball played in the Bendigo league this season.

For the first time since World War 2 – the 1944 season – no football will be played in the central Victorian sport headquarters.

That’s a 76-year span since a major world event called a halt to footy. Footy resumed in 1945 a few months before the August surrender by Japan which wrapped up the devastating world-wide sufferings caused by the war.

The writing was on the wall for the BFNL in early July because 24 hours before the league’s officials met (via Zoom) with club presidents Gisborne had called it quits for this year.

Although in the Macedon Ranges shire Gisborne abuts the Hume municipality one of the outer metropolitan local government areas shut down due to the spread of COVID-19. Gisborne officials said with many of its players in both sports either going to secondary schools in Hume, along with a number of 20-somethings working as tradies or shop assistants there as well, the risk was too great to consider playing on this season.

There’s a tiny flicker of hope still aflame for the Bendigo Football and Netball League, though.

The under-18 footy and under-17 netball competitions could still go ahead as players in those age groups are governed by a separate set of Victorian state government regulations to those protocols enforced on senior players.

BFNL general manager Cameron Tomlins said the season’s cancellation had been “an incredibly difficult time for the league.

“We had to make a responsible decision based on what was best for our local clubs, local communities and the integrity of our competition,” he said. “The ongoing uncertainty surrounding community attendances at matches, how to generate revenue through regular channels such as canteens, bars and social functions and the uncertain burdens and responsibilities thrust upon clubs to comply with the necessary protocols and guidelines all weighed on our decision,” Tomlins said.

“There was also great concern for clubs’ short to medium-term financial sustainability and other such implications,” the BFNL general manager added.

This writer has been told independently of the league’s decision the concerns club officials had for the health and well-being of its ageing volunteer base. “We’d have to assign people to cleaning tasks in our own rooms as well as the visitors’ rooms,” one club president told me. “In between each game the change room floors would have to be swept and scrubbed, all the showers and toilets meticulously wiped down and even the door handles swiped with a hand sanitiser. Given that the majority of our volunteers are in the most vulnerable 60-to-70 years-old age groups, we didn’t feel comfortable with assigning them to the change rooms and shower rooms tasks,” he said.

The BFNL was the last of central Victoria’s leagues to pull the pin following the earlier decisions of the Heathcote DFL, Loddon Valley, North Central and Maryborough-Castlemaine leagues to call it quits. Incidentally, the Heathcote decision was not only the earliest in central Victorian, but one of the first across the entire state.

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