‘Concerning trends’ in country football review

Tim EdmundsAlbany Advertiser
Borden’s AFLX pre season concept this season was recognised as a way of keeping football alive in the town despite the club going into recess in 2017.
Camera IconBorden’s AFLX pre season concept this season was recognised as a way of keeping football alive in the town despite the club going into recess in 2017. Credit: Pip Moir

Football clubs in the Wheatbelt are spending on average close to $40,000 a season on paid players just to keep their clubs from folding, a review into the state of the game in country WA has found.

A new report released last week by the WA Country Football League paints the full picture of the health and sustainability of clubs and leagues including the Ongerup Football Association.

The in-depth examination of country football has called for clubs to consider mergers to ensure their survival as one of a raft of recommendations to arrest “some concerning trends”.

The Wheatbelt Review recommends a list of strategies, including reducing matches to 16-players a side, players points systems, crossover league matches, review of the reserves competition and even mergers, to ensure survival.

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Football census data was collected by the WA Country Football League over the June 9-10 weekend to show a snapshot of a usual weekend of country football.

The report, released on September 1, stated the increased number of paid players across the 13 leagues examined was becoming an “alarming trend”.

The data shows an over-reliance on paid players to field teams with clubs spending an estimated $2500 a week on an average of five paid players.

Based on the WACFL estimates, more than $155,000 is being spent each week across the Wheatbelt leagues, with a total of more than $2.3 million a season exchanging hands.

The age of players in the competitions was also profiled with the OFA listed as the league with the highest percentage (25 per cent) of players over the age of 35.

But the league has the lowest percentage (16 per cent) of paid players.

The OFA was reduced to a five-club competition in 2017 after the loss of Borden, continuing the trend of the past decade, which included Ongerup and Kent folding.

A reduction to four clubs was identified by the review as one of the risks facing the OFA.

Based on the WACFL 10-year projected model, the WACFL has projected a reduction from 13 leagues to seven and 22 fewer clubs because of a continued decline in broadacre family farms.

“WACFL believes 40 clubs would be a more realistic number of clubs that the Wheatbelt community in 10 years will be able to sustain,” the report states.

OFA president Kim Parsons said the league was confident of preventing more clubs folding and had begun discussions in recent times with clubs in neighbouring leagues to join the OFA.

“We think we can keep the clubs we have got,” he said.

“We are still looking at options. We are certainly not shying away from the fact we desperately need one more club to join us.”

Mr Parsons said despite the ageing demographic of the OFA, juniors numbers had increased but up to five league games this season had been changed to 16 players a side because of player shortage.

WACFL general manager Joe Georgiades said the review allowed leagues and clubs to decide their own future.

“The important aspect of the report is that change cannot be ordered from Subiaco, but rather leagues and clubs needed to be the ones that analysed the report and identified opportunities for them to improve into the future,” he said.

“There has been a noticeable change in stakeholders’ views throughout the Wheatbelt (over recent years) around the need to make changes to the game, and I think the time is right to consider where the game might be in 10 years time rather than simply taking it one year at a time.”

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