UPDATE: Heathcote District Football Netball League chairman Peter Cole said community safety was at the forefront of the league's decision to cancel the 2020 season.
A video conference hook-up with club presidents on Thursday night laid the foundation for the HDFNL board's decision to pull the pin on a season ruined by COVID-19.
"Every club we spoke to last night said that they understand that there was going to be no play,'' Cole said.
"Whether we did it (made the decision) now or in two weeks' time - the clubs were split. Some wanted to hang on, some didn't.
"Once we found the fact that if someone was training during that period of time and came down with COVID-19 and, god forbid, something happened to them there's no insurance.
"That was a telling factor in why would you bother? It's too dangerous."
Cole said the absence of football and netball in 2020 would hurt the tight-knit HDFNL community, but the cancellation was the right call.
"It's very disappointing, but we've done it for the right reasons as a duty of care to our netballers, our footballers and our supporters,'' Cole said.
"In the current circumstances it's a changing world and, unfortunately, we're right amongst it.
"There's many contributing factors, mainly the protocols that came through this week from Netball Victoria and AFL Victoria.
"It puts a big drain on our community sport and our volunteers. If something goes wrong it's really back on the volunteers head.
"We don't have clarity yet on whether we can play with crowds, whether we can have people at our finals or even when we can start.
"There's a multitude of many factors that led us to this decision, but ultimately it's the safety and protection of our investment which is our players and supporters throughout the district."
Cole said club finances were another factor behind the cancellation.
"Financially, at the moment, it's not so bad because we've called it early,'' Cole said.
"It would be more financially devastating for the clubs if we had played and paid players without crowds, without canteen, without sponsorship.
"Basically, we've just put this year back to next year. It's limited damage at the moment."
With AFL Victoria player transfers open until June 30, HDFNL players could look at playing in other leagues should they make a late start to the season.
Cole said that was a risk the clubs were happy to take.
"There is that element of risk, but because the season was stopped got so late most clubs (in Victoria) had already filled their (player) points and salary cap,'' he said.
"We were within two weeks of starting, so most lists were done. For any player who wants to go anywhere else they'll incur a one-point penalty anyway.
"I don't know of any league that's standing up saying they're definitely going to play."
With the HDFNL season called off the spotlight now moves to other AFLCV leagues.
Cole refused to be drawn on what other leagues could or should do.
"I can't speak for other leagues. We're one of the first to make this decision and it may cause a snowball effect, I don't know,'' Cole said.
"I'm only worried about my league and my participants. There's over 1500 players in football and netball every weekend with our league. That's all I'm worried about."
Cole said it had been a difficult period for everyone involved with the HDFNL and he was proud of the way the clubs and board had handled the situation.
"I'm always proud of our board and our clubs. That's one thing I will tell anybody on any day of the week,'' Cole said.
"If there's a decision that has to be made we'll make it.
"The decision was made for the betterment of our league and betterment of our supporters.
"We want to keep everyone as safe as we possibly can. At the end of the day it's only people kicking a football and throwing a netball...there's a lot worse things going on in life at the moment."
EARLIER: The Heathcote District Football Netball League season has been cancelled.
At a league meeting on Thursday night, the HDFNL board decided to abandon the season because of a number of factors related to COVID-19.
In a letter sent to HDFNL clubs, the HDFNL board said the reasons for cancellation included:
- (Based on State Government COVID-19 restriction roll out) The highly unlikely return to full scale training by June 15, which is the latest date as requested by clubs to be able to train as a whole, prior to the latest possible season start date of July 4.
- The health and safety of all players, officials, and volunteers around forecast Return to Play restrictions at training (scheduled to start May 25). And in particular, the increased responsibility on club representatives to administer COVID-19 protocols.
- The health, safety and financial impact on all individuals, should a COVID-19 case be detected at one of our clubs.
- Financial hardship and lack of income clubs will endure. No crowds, resulting in no gate takings, canteen and bar income, combined with an anticipated lack of sponsorship and other income streams - club fundraisers etc.
"Considering the continued uncertainty around season 2020, this decision, as difficult and disappointing as it is, gives everyone clarity and somewhat relief of the unknown,'' HDFNL chairman Peter Cole said in the letter.
"We as a league and our clubs can now focus on and look forward to a very exciting 2021 season."
The HDFNL is the first league in central Victoria to cancel its season, but is not expected to be the last.
MORE TO COME
Read more: Scrap senior footy and let the kids play
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.