Central Victorian football clubs have welcomed a multi-million dollar AFL funding package, but club officials have stopped short of declaring it's the answer to save grassroots footy.
The AFL, in conjunction with the Victorian State Government, announced on Tuesday an $18 million package for Victorian country football from 2020-2022.
The package includes the removal of all AFL Victoria affiliation fees - a saving of $229,480 per year for the AFL Central Victoria region or on average about $6300 per club per year in the Bendigo, Heathcote, Loddon Valley and North Central leagues.
The removal of umpire registration fees and a reduction in the cost of club apparel have also been included in a deal that is expected to save clubs across the state $3.22 million each year.
"AFL affiliation fees are one of the bigest costs for clubs, so it's significant,'' Sandhurst FNC president Chris Greene said.
"It's nothing to be sneezed at and we'll take it, but it is only for three years.
"What really irks me is that the AFL has no problem in spending $60 million on Marvel Stadium in the blink of an eye and now they're jumping up and down and performing a rain dance over spending $3.22 million on country footy.
"We are football in Australia, we're the grassroots... it's what football is all about.
"The AFL should be giving back to country football."
Newbridge FNC president Kristian Shevlin said the removal of affiliation fees was a good start, but more was needed to be done around retention of players and volunteers.
"If your club is struggling to pay your $5000 or $6000 for affiliation fees then you're in trouble,'' Shevlin said.
"The bigger issues are junior numbers and volunteers. Having the right volunteers in the right roles is so important.
"Don't get me wrong, it's fantastic that we won't have to pay fees for three years, but it's not going to save clubs going forward."
The AFL funding does include a $950,000 initiative to lessen the workload on volunteers, including a digital portal and face-to-face support system and increased resourcing of Region Administration Centres.
Funding will also be focused on growing the next generation of players, umpires and coaches with $330,000 dedicated to the introduction of Village Hubs which will be launched in select regions to align local schools, community clubs and AFL clubs together.
The AFL will also invest $1.5 million towards establishing a Strategic Community Investment Fund which will allow flexibility and immediate response to local league and club needs.
"Local football clubs are often the heart of local communities, especially here in Victoria." AFL chief executive Gil McLachlan said.
"Community football is the cornerstone of our game and underpins all aspects of our national sport.
"We understand the challenges faced in Victorian country football communities, especially with a change in demographics and community expectations, so it's vital we continue to invest our support into volunteers, coaches, players, facilities and umpires who are the lifeblood of regional communities.
"This funding, when coupled with the support already in place through the work of AFL Victoria, provides a platform for long-term growth in community football and an opportunity to reboot the community that fuels the game at the grassroots level."
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