BENDIGO is now one of the last major leagues still keeping the door open to a 2020 season after Goulburn Valley and Ovens and Murray cancelled their competitions on Thursday.
While the line has been put through the Goulburn Valley and Ovens and Murray seasons, the Bendigo league is set to press on into next week following the release on Thursday of AFL Victoria's Return To Play Protocols.
The BFNL will now give its clubs time to absorb the information before meeting again next week.
One of the key pieces of information leagues and clubs have been seeking clarification on is will crowds be permitted into games and if so, how many and by when?
The protocols state: "spectators should be in groups of no more than 10 people in open, outdoor venues and spread out around the ground or venue. Spectators must keep 1.5 meters apart."
However, the protocols don't state how many people will be permitted to attend a venue at any one time, but an AFL Victoria spokesman told the Bendigo Advertiser that there will be a capped figure implemented pending information from the state government.
"We're expecting there to be a cap, but at the moment we don't know what that is yet. The cap will enable crowds up to a certain point, it's just a matter of what that point is," the spokesman said.
Whatever that capped figure is, it won't include "participants and those reasonably necessary to conduct training or competition, such as umpires, coaches".
Where venues allow for vehicle access, spectators will be encouraged to remain in their vehicle, but only with fellow family members.
It will be the participating clubs' responsibility to monitor crowd social distancing and, if required, they will be able to liaise with Police to enforce social distancing protocols.
If a positive COVID-19 case is detected within a club the response could include quarantine of a whole team or large group and close contacts for the required period.
Where there is a positive COVID-19 case, the player or official must notify their club immediately.
The club must then notify their league, who will notify AFL Victoria and the Public Health Authority.
The club and league must then follow the advice of the Public Health Authority or Chief Health Officer, who will determine the requirement for quarantining individuals, groups or teams and whether the training facility can be used.
The keenly-anticipated nine-page AFL Victoria document also outlines protocols relating to:
* first aid personnel and trainers;
* strategies to manage training and games;
* COVID safety officer responsibilities; and
The release of the protocols on Thursday came the day after BFNL manager Cameron Tomlins told the Bendigo Advertiser the information was a critical piece of the puzzle the league and clubs were awaiting for the next step of its decision process.
"Our clubs have now been given the protocols and on the back of that we'll fine-tune a survey we've been working on that we'll send out to the clubs over the weekend," Tomlins said.
"We'll get that data back early next week and then potentially get together next Wednesday and see what everyone is thinking.
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"The key part moving forward will be, is there enough substance in what we've got to be able to make a decision or is what's included in this document enough to tip some clubs over the edge and say we're not interested in pursuing that.
"Speaking to a lot of clubs last night, we know there's a lot of different views at club level about what they want to do and there's quite a few that have indicated everyone is starting to get a bit tired.
"We haven't had any negativity towards the league and the clubs are all in the same boat that we've done the right thing throughout this process. It has certainly been an emotional roller-coaster and we recognise that this is starting to take a toll."
We haven't had any negativity towards the league and the clubs are all in the same boat that we've done the right thing throughout this process. It has certainly been an emotional roller-coasterCameron Tomlins - BFNL manager
Meanwhile, of the top 15 ranked leagues following last year's AFL Victoria Community Championships, Bendigo is one of just five still with the door open to playing in 2020.
The top 15 ranked leagues after last year's inter-league matches were:
1 - Northern
2 - Mornington Peninsula
3 - Geelong
4 - Goulburn Valley
5 - Ovens and Murray
6 - Hampden
7 - Western Region
8 - Bendigo
9 - Ballarat
10 - Central Murray
11 - Outer East
12 - Wimmera
13 - Gippsland
14 - Bellarine
15 - Murray
As of Thursday afternoon, of those 15 all bar Mornington Peninsula, Bendigo, Ballarat, Outer East and Gippsland have announced their seasons are abandoned.
The Goulburn Valley and Ovens and Murray leagues confirmed on Thursday morning they were cancelling their seasons, with the Murray league following soon after.
Should the BFNL buck the trend and against the odds get its season under way, a July 25 start, which government timelines permit, would allow for the minimum requirement of nine home and away rounds, plus four weeks of finals, to be completed by October 18, which adheres to the Cricket Victoria-AFL Victoria agreement for football's priority use of grounds.
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