AFL VICTORIA has made a controversial decision to scrap the Country Championships for the 2020 football season, also known as the interleague competition.
AFL Victoria released an official statement on Tuesday, swinging the axe on the championships for next year’s football season.
“The decision not to facilitate the 2020 Community Championships was based on the feedback from clubs and leagues across the state,” the statement read.
“AFL Victoria will continue to consult with stakeholders around the future of the Community Championships and representative football to ensure the best structure is provided,” AFL Victoria continued.
This decision has sparked outrage from both local stakeholders and AFL media personalities.
Melbourne Football Club champion Garry Lyon described the decision as “disgraceful” while speaking on SEN Breakfast on Tuesday.
Lyon called out to the AFL to assist the championships.
“Write the cheque AFL”, Lyon stated.
“Write the cheque and keep the AFL Community Championships going,” he concluded.
AFL Victoria community manager Stephen O’Donohue remains steady in AFL Victoria’s decision however.
“Based on the feedback from clubs and leagues across the state, AFL Victoria will not facilitate the WorkSafe AFL Victoria Community Championships in 2020 given many stakeholders raised the current format as a concern, telling us they believe it needs an update and changes,” he said.
The interleague competition has been a highlight round in the fixtures of country football leagues for years, and there are growing concerns that the axing of the interleague competition is neglecting the opportunity for country footballers to play representative football.
Chief Commissioner of the Wimmera Football League Trevor Albrecht was “really disappointed” in the decision reached by AFL Victoria.
“The Wimmera Football League has supported the interleague for many years, we feel comfortable in saying that majority of the leagues clubs and players supported the interleague as well,” Mr Albrecht said.
“Our support for the competition has really been reflected in the past few years as we’ve taken a lot of road trips and have played less home games in the competition,” he continued.
“We’ve also had really good sides in the past years, and that can be seen through our current interleague ranking of 12, compared to the ranking of 20 the team had only a few years ago,” Mr Albrecht said.
“We were aiming for that pole position in the top ten of the rankings,” he said.
Mr Albrecht understands the decisions for some leagues to pull out recently, namely the Sunraysia Football League, and the pressure mounting from metropolitan leagues, but he feels the competition did not put the Wimmera Football League out of pocket.
“Metropolitan leagues tend not to like travelling far, while a lot of country leagues are pretty flexible in that regard,” Mr Albrecht said.
“The AFL does compensate teams that do travel farther, so the monetary issues were never a factor,” he said.
The league had selected Shane Fisher, outgoing coach at the Ararat Football Club to coach next year’s interleague squad.
“It’s evident that both coaches and players loved having the opportunity to play representative football, which is why we’ve been able to post such solid teams in the past seasons,” Mr Albrecht said.
“We will commit to Fisher as the coach whether or not an interleague squad will be fielded next year,” he continued.
The axing of the Country Championships does leave a vital hole in the fixture, and the league said to “watch this space” when asked if any event will take its place.
The Country Championships were also a pivotal step for aspiring footballers looking to deepen their footballing careers.
“The interleague is still apart of the pathway for young footballers, primarily in the Under 18s region,” he said.
Mr Albrecht said the league is wary about the state and structure of the interleague if and when it returns.
“We do have questions,” he said.
“What format it will return in, if it does, is a question we have and we’ll just have to wait out,” he said.
“We have worked really hard to promote the league by improving our ranking, so it’s very disappointing,” he concluded.