THE burden on club volunteers combined with those who are also in the high risk COVID-19 age group is weighing heavily on Bendigo Football-Netball League clubs.
Bendigo is one of the last Victorian senior football-netball leagues still keeping the door open to playing in 2020, with a decision to potentially be made on Wednesday night.
Clubs have returned a 20-question survey to the league that will help form the decision of whether to press on and seek to play a truncated season or join the growing list of cancelled competitions.
Ahead of Wednesday night's pivotal meeting, the Bendigo Advertiser has spoken with nine of the 10 club presidents - one was unavailable - about whether they believe a BFNL season is still feasible under the AFL Victoria Return-To-Play Protocols.
While none of the nine clubs spoken to had put a line through the 2020 season, there was a common thread of the heavy burden that will be placed on volunteers to carry out the required duties, while there is also still a need for greater information, particularly relating to the number of people allowed at games and by when - although, the recent spike in Victorian cases does not bode well.
In relation to the biggest concern clubs have with the implementation and management of Protocols, plus the further information they deem necessary, club responses included:
1 - "Probably the biggest thing looks to be getting your rooms cleaned between games and separating the players because there can be no more than 20 in the rooms, as well as controlling the crowds.
"There wasn't anything there on canteen protocols and such, so there's still a lot of information missing."
2 - "This has nothing to do with the BFNL, but we still don't know what we're expected to do... the Protocols are there, but it doesn't exactly tell us things like can we sell canned alcohol at the ground? They (the AFL Victoria Protocols) have said we can't do a lot of stuff, but they haven't told us what we can do."
3 - "What is handicapping us at the moment is the lack of clarity from the AFL, and they are probably hamstrung too from the government in terms of where are we going with crowds?
"A lot of these leagues that have dropped out already are because of the lack of information coming back.
"I understand it's hard, but if the government or AFL had come out and said this is what we're aiming for and this is where we think we'll get to, or it's too hard, let's call it off for the year state-wide, it would have been a much better way of doing it.
"One of the biggest things I'm concerned about is if we're possibly the only league in country Victoria that gets going, how much scrutiny and attention are we going to have on us in terms of complying with all the Protocols."
4 - "We're still keen for the season to go ahead, but we're a yes on the provision that we need greater clarity from the AFL in regards to the protection of volunteers and liability because the Protocols just aren't clear enough. It appears to be a document more to protect the AFL rather than community clubs."
5 - "Some of the Protocols still weren't fleshed out clearly on what would be required.
"The biggest query we have is is around the cleaning of rooms. Do we require a deep cleaning of rooms between games and what would that standard be?
"Do we have to bring in an external cleaning company, which incurs a massive cost, or is it another burden we have to put on our volunteers. At our club a lot of our volunteers are in a high risk age bracket, so we can't ask them to have to go in and clean rooms and do it quickly.
"There's also the policing of crowds. We know there can be groups of 10, but there hasn't been a cap put on how many people yet, so there's still a lot of ambiguity around that."
6 - "The information around crowds is still a bit sketchy. There's the groups of 10, but how do we control that and what happens if someone at a club gets COVID-19."
7 - "There's still a lot of questions that are very much unanswered because there's no indication on crowd numbers yet."
The Return-To-Play Protocols cover a range of topics including illness; hygiene; first aid personnel and trainers; equipment; strategies to manage training and games;COVID safety officer responsibilities; and education.
Under the Protocols, a snapshot of a day at the football-netball for leagues that pursue a season includes:
* spectators to be confined to groups of 10 adhering to 1.5m social distancing spread around the ground;
* where venues allow it, spectators to remain in their vehicle with family members only;
* no spectators on the ground during breaks or after the match;
* changerooms limited to only players and essential staff and only up to 20 allowed in an indoor space; and
* no social gatherings and mingling after games.
As well as the greater detail clubs are seeking in terms of their responsibilities running a game-day, it's clear among clubs that many of their volunteers are in the the COVID-19 high risk age group, which is listed as 70 years or over, or those 65 years or over with a chronic medical condition.
Concerns of clubs for their volunteers included:
1 - "We're working towards trying to play, but it's whether we'll have enough volunteers available.
"It's hard because I would think we're no different to most clubs in that a lot of our volunteers are aged and they are in that susceptible cohort."
2 - "The Protocols make it difficult.... there's lots of pressure placed on volunteers at clubs, which could be quite difficult.
"At our club we have a lot of volunteers who are in the upper age group who have said they wouldn't be coming back this year to do the things they normally would in the current climate."
3 - "There's not just the burden on volunteers, but it's the risk as well.
"A lot of our volunteers aren't spring chickens anymore, so we're putting them at risk in several ways when you think about it."
4 - "A lot of our volunteers fall into that age bracket where they would be vulnerable, so that's something we need to consider.
"We all want to play, but we need to use our heads and not our hearts because it's a health and safety issue and how do we best manage that for our members, volunteers and the greater community."
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