The season is over for juniors in the AFL South Coast Illawarra competition, after the league was forced to cancel the remainder of its campaign on Wednesday.
AFLSC made their decision on the back of the state government's announcement on Wednesday to extend the Greater Sydney lockdown by four weeks.
After contacting each of the 10 Illawarra junior clubs, community football and competition manager South Coast Tim Martin announced the decision via a statement on Wednesday night.
"AFL South Coast has always remained committed to the recommencement of our local competitions unless we reached a stage where continuing public health order restrictions prevented that from being a viable option," Martin said.
"As discussed with each club, the four-week lockdown extension announced by the NSW government has a very significant impact on our ability to provide a meaningful and safe conclusion to the 2021 competition.
"With that in mind, and following consultation with each club, the very difficult decision has now been made by AFL South Coast to cancel the 2021 Illawarra juniors competition.
"It goes without saying that it's an unfortunate and incredibly disappointing way for the competition to conclude."
The decision was made with regard to a range of matters, including:
- The duration of the lockdown period to date and newly announced extension, with a need to now, move away from speculative decision-making and provide our impacted football community with certainty around whether the 2021 competition will proceed or not.
- The very limited scope for any substantive extension of the competition season, including the availability of a sufficient number of grounds with the impending switch-over to summer sports.
- Player safety and welfare considerations with the need to provide for a proper period of 'return to training' before playing any matches, which would consume most or all of the remaining weeks of the competition season (if the lockdown is lifted at the end of the extended period).
- The concerns many clubs have flagged around the waning prospects of being able to re-engage all players, especially for such a short period of time, and the probability of teams having to withdraw from existing competitions.
"I know it's a disheartening end to the 2021 competition for all, however AFL South Coast remains very much committed to working with all clubs around any player engagement and retention initiatives which could still be implemented," Martin said.
"While all players deserve recognition, I'm particularly mindful of our top age under 17s boys and girls whose junior club playing days have come to a quiet and unconventional end.
"I thank all of these players for their wonderful service to junior football in our region and wish each player all the very best.
"I urge clubs to recognise each player and look at all possible strategies for helping as many of those as possible progress into our senior competition in 2022."
Martin also admitted the code is now working through a number of issues including whether to still have individual player awards and associated events, player retention and affiliation and insurance fee structure for impacted clubs.
AFLSC still intends to send Illawarra Storm representative sides to the Coffs Harbour carnival in mid-September
A decision of AFLSC's senior competition is expected in the coming days while the Shoalhaven junior season will continue as planned.