Football Victoria has outlined plans to temporarily remove the threat of relegation - while maintaining promotion - as part of a strategy to return to the field in the wake of its COVID-19 enforced suspension.
In principles released on Monday, Victorian football's governing body revealed that while clubs that take the field can still stage a push for promotion in 2020, they will be doing so without the prospect of relegation hanging over their heads for one season only.
The ruling covers all competition across the Victorian footballing pyramid and means competitions will grow by two sides in 2021; a decision yet to be made on whether the new arrangements will be permanent or temporary.
“At the forefront of our principles is absolute clarity for Victorian football clubs that we will follow the guidelines provided by Government and Football authorities before restarting play in 2020,” said FV CEO Peter Filopoulos.
“The health and wellbeing of our participants and stakeholders is fundamental to any football being played this season and we will continue our extensive work with the authorities to ensure all ‘return to training’ and ‘return to play’ guidelines are followed as a priority above all others.
“From a football competitions point of view, relegation has been removed from all senior tiers of football and promotion retained.
“This provides those clubs that have been impacted significantly by COVID-19 with the certainty that they will not lose their place in Victoria’s football hierarchy in 2020 whilst ensuring clubs with the ambition to ascend the hierarchy via promotion can still pursue this dream.”
Several clubs in the top-flight of Victorian football have expressed reservations about returning to football in 2020, citing apprehensions surrounding health, operating costs and competition integrity amongst their reasoning in conversations with FTBL.
It's understood that up to ten of the side’s that make up NPL1 have varying levels of enthusiasm for returning to the pitch – with only Hume City, Green Gully and South Melbourne publicly coming out in favour of senior football’s return.
In an attempt to address some of these concerns, FV has indicated the clubs choosing to sit out the 2020 season due to COVID-19 related concerns will not be penalized for their decision and retain their position in the footballing pyramid the following season – contingent upon team entry/license/participation fees being paid by October 31.
In the event that not enough senior NPL1 sides to maintain competitive integrity were willing to take the field in 2020, FTBL it is likely that a hybrid competition featuring those clubs willing to play and NPL2 sides – with promotion going to the highest-ranked NPL2 sides – would be investigated.
Formal discussions on hybrid competitions, scheduling and other competition modifications, however, will only begin when a greater understanding of how many sides are willing to return is known.
NPL2 and NPL3 clubs are near-universally in favour of returning.
“FV understands that the impact of COVID-19 has meant that some clubs would prefer to voluntarily opt-out of competition in 2020. This is understandable,” Filopoulos said.
“Whilst our team will work with all clubs to support their desire to play football this season, if this proves unachievable we will ensure the clubs who decide to opt-out from competitions that their position in the football hierarchy is maintained and welcome them back in 2021.
“We will take a Leadership role with our clubs and work with them on their specific circumstances through this period including on issues of genuine financial hardship.
“We will also ensure that the clubs and players who are in a position to play football are provided with this opportunity and we know that Victoria’s football community will be central to the State’s re-emergence from the COVID-19 induced shutdown.
“I am looking forward to our players once again experiencing the joy of playing our great game.”
FTBL understands that NPLW is also set to return once the go-ahead from health and government authorities, although clubs are negotiating with FV over the length of the season given the likelihood that an extended number of players may be needed to bolster the squads of W-League sides bereft of international players in the 2020/21 season.
Though reports have cast doubt over the viability of the 2020 FFA Cup, both the Dockerty Cup – which doubles as Victoria’s FFA Cup qualifying process – and the women’s Nike FC Cup are still being planned by FV.
Junior, community and Miniroos competitions remain on track to start under modified conditions designed to protect participants and facilitators from COVID-19.