Coronavirus Crisis: A challenge and opportunity for country clubs


Roger Spaull didn’t expect to be writing to the Footy Almanac so soon but the impact of coronavirus on country football has yet to be fully appreciated by most journalists.


It has been disappointing/ frustrating for him that amid the endless discussion to save the AFL national competition in 2020,  little mention has been forthcoming about the future of bush/ regional football.    


Roger sent a copy of the attached  letter to Ed Gannon at ‘The Weekly Times’ in the hope that country readers  may reflect and ‘begin to stir’ on the great challenges that bush clubs will face in 2021…even if a vaccine becomes available in the new year. Small bush clubs will struggle to cope with the residue/ aftermath of such a virus.


 We are delighted to  post Roger’s letter to spark interest among our country readers in the issue that confronts community football.   


This is a strange time in our lives;  as Roger told a ‘young teacher’  how  this pandemic reminded him of the dread and horror that the poliomyelitis epidemic caused during the 1950’s …parents and teachers were mortified of children contracting polio.  





Letter to the Editor.

‘The Weekly Times’

Mr Ed Gannon.









Amid the plethora of complex questions facing all tiers of government, medical authorities, community and sporting organizations (e.g. football), during the current coronavirus crisis, a leading question is:


“Is there any real likelihood of community /suburban / country football ‘kicking off’ in 2020? “


While the prospect of any community football in 2020 is slim, it may be a judicious opportunity for the AFL (via regional structures) to undertake an investigation into the standard(s) of medical organization across all Victorian football leagues/clubs.


Some readers will remember that, during their playing days in ‘bush football’, the main kit of many medical officers was most basic (e.g. a wet towel and a bottle of smelling salts).


Thankfully, player treatment and care have progressed since those ‘rustic times’ but, even today the standard of medical organization/structure varies substantially from club to club.  It is fair to say,  that many  small football clubs need greater levels of practical support and expertise in meeting the medical  needs of players.




Consequently, before any decision to resume all levels and grades of community football,  in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, it would be sensible  to conduct  a full  assessment (via survey) across all major/minor/ junior leagues into the future medical needs of clubs.


Any such investigation should address the following main areas:


  1. The number of medical officers/ trainers that each club has listed for the forthcoming season. As many country leagues have three grades of football each match day (e.g. Third XVIII @ 10.00am, Reserves @ 12.00pm and Seniors @ 2.00pm), the survey questions should attempt to reveal the level of medical support for all teams across the entire match day.
  2. The experience and qualifications of medical officers / trainers/ support staff and other volunteers who assist the club on match days and at training sessions.
  3. The ages of medical officers. In many country clubs, a large percentage medical officers/trainers, are 60-70 years of age and recruitment of ‘younger’ volunteers is difficult.
  4. The size and amenities of all changing rooms in clubs (particularly visitors rooms) . If separate medical rooms exist in changing rooms, what are the existing standards and what improvements are deemed necessary?
  5. The protocols and practices adopted by clubs in terms of OHS/ injury/ welfare /rehabilitation for players during any season.
  6. The levels of access to community resources (e.g. /doctors / local hospitals/ clinics /paramedics/ambulance services / rehabilitation and medical updates etc. )   for local football clubs during any season.




Without medical officers/ staff  there can be no contact sports ; and , as a consequence, smaller and less-financial football clubs often  struggle to meet the needs of players on match day. (See point: 1 above)


Anecdotal evidence suggests that some club medical officers are on  duty, on match days, for 7-8 hours without a substantial break. Most club medical officers/ staff are volunteers; and generally overworked (perhaps stressed at ‘peak times’ e.g. pre-match taping/ massaging/half time etc.) as clubs demand ‘more from less’ to be competitive and, in turn, find success.


Note:  At our club, not one medical officer, trainer or support staff receives any stipend for their services. The current M/O, who is female, is 73 years of age and in attendance at the club for 10-12 hours per week during the season.


Long-time serving football officials will remember the negative impact that the HIV-AIDS epidemic had on local clubs during the 1980’s.  Throughout those difficult years, the number of medical staff/ trainers, was particularly ‘thin on and off the ground’ as volunteers took swift flight from changing rooms and medical rooms. There is a possibility that the coronavirus crisis will have a similar effect on football clubs.


While the curve/spread of the coronavirus maybe flattened,  the virus will be still virulent; and, naturally,  volunteers will   be reluctant to assist  in medical and changing rooms. Consequently, the  resumption of country/suburban  football is problematic because as Dr. Norman Swan ( ABC ) explained: “The only thing that will really allow life as we once knew it to resume is a vaccine.”




Sadly, in country football, the plight of small/junior clubs, regarding medical support has often been overlooked; but the complex issues, related to the outbreak  of the coronavirus crisis,  should serve as a catalyst to undertake an overhaul of this key area in player health and welfare.


Hopefully, before any community/ country football resumes, the following action will be taken   by all leagues…


  1. That meetings between AFL regional administrators and club representatives ( e.g. Secretary and Head M.O./ trainer ) be called to determine if all football clubs are prepared (i.e. medically)  to recommence ‘if and when’  the coronavirus lockdown is lifted and community sport is given the ‘all clear’ to proceed.


  1. That all leagues consider the role of a doctor (honorary or remunerated) as part of their regional structures. Such  doctors could be a ‘first port of call’  in:


  • Providing advice to clubs on a range of medical matters;




(ii) Assisting  in  upgrading of  protocols and procedures for football clubs.


Note: It is an enigma that while every AFL club has a doctor/ specialist (sometimes plural) on staff, to the best of this writer’s knowledge,    there is not one country league that has a doctor, appointed to its administration, to support the demanding work of club medical officers.


  • That all leagues accept the responsibility to organize meetings of staff / players to explain the complications of the coronavirus pandemic and clarify issues related to OH&S and player health/welfare. Such matters would be a minefield and what an onerous task for volunteer medical officers in country/ community clubs.




The sustainability of Australian Rules football, at a national level,  is dependent on the strength of ‘grass roots’ football; and, there  is every possibility , at this point in time ( April 2020), that  many small country football clubs would be   ill-equipped to deal  with the complexities of the issues related to COVID-19.


As the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, recently stated: “His biggest concern continued to be community transmission and the fact that 10 per cent of those with the virus have had no known contact with a COVID-19 case.”


This pandemic has changed the face of all football; and while we await the development of an effective vaccine to counter COVID-19,   the duty of care for players, by clubs at every level , will be tested as never before.


If players are to return to community football with confidence, after this hiatus, planning and preparations should start now.


Thank you for your consideration of the above  letter.


Yours faithfully,


Roger Spaull ( Dromana FNC Life Member & Club Historian ).


April 8th 2020.



Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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