League at tipping point

UP IN THE AIR: The Western Border Football League is in disarray, with declining numbers and rumours of clubs departing threatening the viability of the competition. Picture: FRANK MONGER

By Trevor Jackson

IT is crunch time for football in the Limestone Coast and the Western Border Football League is in disarray, with reports about the possible dissolution of the league.

According to WBFL president Michael Summers, if the South Australian National Football League do nothing, it could mean the death of the competition.

The issue was heightened this week with rumours suggesting Casterton Sandford could leave the league next season and the possibility East Gambier was looking to head north, which both teams denied.

The WBFL has worked hard to keep the Cats this side of the border, while it is hard to imagine the competition without the likes of East involved.

For the two teams to leave, the league would simply not be viable.

A meeting was held on Sunday at Naracoorte between the WBFL, SANFL representatives and those from the Mid South East and Kowree Naracoorte Tatiara leagues.

A further meeting is set down for October, where the situation will be discussed again.

Summers said the WBFL instigated the meeting, with the hope to sort out any problems facing the sport in the South East into the future.

The situation is so dire, one suggestion floated by the WBFL was to dissolve the league voluntarily, with the six clubs then left to find a place to play.

That suggestion opened the lines of discussion, which Summers said the league had wanted to do for many years.

As the biggest regional city in South Australia, it is only reasonable for Mount Gambier to have a strong league in place.

After what is believed to be a healthy discussion, no decision was made.

It leaves the WBFL with no real options at this stage but to simply wait and see what unfolds, which is not ideal for the sport or the league.

“We can’t as a league wait until October’s meeting for a decision,” Summers said.

“We need a decision early September, or late August.

“Once the grand final hits, players want to know where they are going and you start to lose players.”

Summers said the WBFL simply wanted to be on the front foot with the SANFL to say they need help.

“We wanted to have a discussion with every league and club in the same room instead of going back and forth to try to get something to happen,” he said.

“All the clubs were invited, the SANFL was there and the netball associations were invited too.

“Numbers suggest we are all declining, so whether it happens this year or into the future, there will be clubs that won’t be around any more.

“Spectators are not coming, players are sick of playing each other every five weeks, the revenue is not there and it is harder to get sponsorship.

“We are trying our best to help the clubs, but it is getting harder.”

Summers said the league would continue on with six clubs, but if Casterton Sandford and East Gambier leave, it will simply not survive.

SANFL Football Operations Coordinator SE Michael Mourbey said the SANFL would look at the situation and make a decision in time.

“The meeting (Sunday) was led by SANFL, from Lisa Faraci and myself,” he said.

“We wanted to talk about various matters, but one of the things we were focusing on was the future sustainability of football in the South East and we have clubs and leagues operating at their maximum capacity in 10-20 years time.

“We have looked at population graphs to see where growth might occur and to see if the fit we have at the moment is the right fit moving forward.”

The regional football council will now undertake a survey over the coming weeks and present back to the same group with options into the future.

Mourbey said a final decision was never going to be made on the day of the meeting.

He agreed a major centre such as Mount Gambier should have a “vibrant football competition”, to include teams from the city and surrounding areas where possible.

He also suggested the three leagues and all clubs also need to take responsibility for the future of the sport.

“What we did say at the meeting was we are all part of the community of football in the South East,” Mourbey said.

“We all have a responsibility to ensure everyone is playing football to the best of their ability and capacity.”

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