A bold and courageous decision

Kyneton FNC has made a bold and courageous decision to provide the best platform for the club's future.

Stuart Dunn, Castlemaine

I write in relation to the recent reports that Kyneton Football Netball Club has sought clearance to leave the Bendigo Football Netball League and join the Riddell Football Netball League in 2024.

As someone who had a long involvement in local football and netball, as a participant, former administrator, junior parent and coach, I have watched this situation develop with great interest.

Firstly, well done to Kyneton for not only making a bold and courageous decision to provide the best platform for the club’s future, but also for shining a spotlight on the most significant threat to the future of the sport at the grassroots level.

In their excellent statement outlining the reasons for the move to the RDFNL, the KFNC provided a number of compelling reasons.

Perhaps the most compelling were the ones that directly pointed out the differences in the culture, governance and financial burden between the two competitions, with Kyneton identifying the RDFNL to be superior in all of these areas, finding their dealings with the RDFNL to be ‘exceptional, extremely proactive and collaborative’ while also pointing out the RDFNL fees are almost half of fees paid in the BFNL.

So what is it that allows the RDFNL to provide such a vastly superior model for clubs?

To answer that question we need to look at the structure of administration of country football and netball leagues.

About 10 years ago, AFL Victoria, as the administrators of local football, introduced a system whereby each region would be administered by a local, ‘hub’ style administration centre. The BFNL was taken on by the AFL Central Victoria hub, while the RDFNL belonged to AFL Goldfields.

At the time, these hubs were sold to the clubs with promises of reduced fees and reduced workloads for volunteers, via centralised services.

Clubs were told the days of finding volunteers for positions of significant governance like secretaries and treasurers were over, because the hubs would provide that level of administrative support, as well as providing many other levels of support that would save clubs and volunteers time, money and effort.

Fast forward to the present day and we find that not only has the hub system not delivered any benefits to clubs, it has actually made life much more difficult and placed increasing pressure on their very survival.

Hubs like AFL Central Victoria have become sharks in the water. Ever-increasing staff numbers create ever-increasing wage costs, which in turn creates financial burdens for the clubs and volunteers to meet.

The hubs actively seek sponsors, reducing the pool available for clubs, create commercial arrangements with products such as clothing and merchandise or canteen products, in turn preventing clubs from making their own commercial arrangements for those products.

Club fees have increased significantly and AFL Central Victoria has assumed control of finals revenue, which was previously distributed to clubs in the league (and still is in the RDFNL as per Kyneton’s statement).

If you attend the BFNL Grand Final you will almost certainly find AFL Central Victoria conducting a raffle, as they have in previous years, once again removing money from the pool available to clubs via fundraising channels.

The relevance of this to the KFNC decision is that in 2021 the RDFNL made the decision to leave the AFL Goldfields hub and take back independent operations.

At the time, RDFNL officials spoke of high costs, being able to better connect with local sponsors, the ability to make apparel arrangements and an opportunity to innovate and create a better direction for the league as compelling reasons for the change.

When the RDFNL left AFL Goldfields, it was helping fund 11 full-time employees. Upon leaving, the RDFNL retained two full-time staff.

AFL Central Victoria’s website currently features 16 staff.

One thing not in dispute by anyone is that local football is in a critical period where the very survival of many clubs and leagues is under threat.

The current operation and existence of the AFL Victoria hub system is hindering where it should be helping, and doing nothing more than adding to the pressure on clubs in all sorts of ways.

The fact that the AFL Central Victorian Commission, a body of volunteers with vast experience at club level, tried to keep the hub at arm’s length while discussing significant change to the competitions with clubs, tells you all you need to know about which interests are currently being served in our game.

The tide is slowly starting to turn, we have seen the Picola League leave AFL Victoria and the Heathcote League discussing major change recently, and Kyneton has become the latest club to have the courage to shine a light on the issues in the region.

Let’s hope more clubs share that courage and we see the people take back the game and the administration of it, before it is too late.