OFFICIALS from the Bendigo and Heathcote District football-netball leagues have praised clubs for their adaptability to re-boot their seasons last weekend in a crowdless environment with limited time to prepare.
While it had been announced last Wednesday that senior community sporting competition could resume on the weekend as part of an easing of regional restrictions, it wasn't until late Friday afternoon that leagues received guidance from AFL Victoria and Netball Victoria that the cap of 150 people allowed inside venues included players, coaches, officials and essential support personnel only.
Despite no spectators - apart from those required to supervise children or support individuals with additional needs permitted - both the BFNL and HDFNL re-started their seasons following two weekends of called off games due to lockdown restrictions.
Leagues will now be awaiting updated protocols from AFL Victoria and Netball Victoria following the state government's announcement on Wednesday that from Friday the latest easing of restrictions in regional Victoria will allow for a patron cap of 1000 people for outdoor sport, as well as 300 for indoor.
Earlier in the week the most recent AFL Victoria protocols had stated: "A maximum venue capacity of patrons at any one time has been removed, with the number of patrons now being equal to the minimum number of people necessary to conduct the activity. Spectators are still limited to parents and guardians required to conduct the activity."
Also included in the easing of restrictions is there will no longer be a ban on travel from Melbourne into regional Victoria, which had an impact on most BFNL and HDFNL clubs last weekend in terms of Melbourne-based players being unable to play.
BFNL manager Cameron Tomlins said on Wednesday the league's 10 clubs all deserved congratulations for re-starting the season under difficult circumstances last weekend with not only spectators unable to attend and therefore foregoing all-important match-day revenue, but player numbers being impacted due to the unavailability of Melbourne-based players, while changerooms were also off limits.
"The strain that was put on volunteers and clubs last week increased exponentially throughout the week," Tomlins said.
"Credit to all the clubs for being able to pull it all together come late Friday into early Saturday to be able to stage matches that looked completely different to what we're used to.
"The co-operation and unity from all our clubs to get our players back on the oval and court has been huge and we can't thank them enough for what they've done.
"What we were able to do by returning to play last week was it has kept our season on track. We still have the aim of playing 18 home and away rounds, plus finals, in our sights. If we hadn't have played last weekend then that would have been off the table.
"There was a lot of sacrifice by clubs last weekend and credit to them for taking it on the chin and rolling with it."
There was a lot of sacrifice by clubs last weekend and credit to them for taking it on the chin and rolling with itCameron Tomlins - BFNL manager
BFNL clubs last week also had to deal with a midweek fixture change.
The league had intended to re-start its season with round nine games, but on Wednesday night reverted to round eight given it allowed the two clubs most heavily impacted by the Melbourne travel ban into regional Victoria - Kyneton and Gisborne - to play each other.
"Again, our clubs were fantastic last week with their ability to be flexible and adapt to the change of games," Tomlins said.
"It was a credit to everyone to roll with the changes that we made.
"We know clubs aren't always going to agree with every decision that is made, but for them to understand why they have been made and then roll up their sleeves and get on with the job is a credit to everyone."
HDFNL chairman Peter Cole echoed the sentiments of Tomlins.
"All of our clubs were fantastic last week. We had no dramas across our games and we were very proud of our league in the way our clubs conducted themselves in what were obviously tough circumstances," Cole said.
"There was no issues for clubs in terms of supporters wanting to get in, which was pleasing."
Cole said the league would play again this week - even if crowds still weren't permitted - meaning the HDFNL will reach the crucial point where all teams have played each other once.
* This weekend's games:
BFNL (round 8) - Castlemaine v Golden Square, Gisborne v Maryborough, Kyneton v Sandhurst, South Bendigo v Kangaroo Flat, Eaglehawk v Strathfieldsaye.
HDFNL (round 9) - Elmore v Heathcote, LBU v North Bendigo, Huntly v White Hills, Mount Pleasant v Colbinabbin. Leitchville-Gunbower bye.
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