Black Diamond board opposes new entity to run AFL

Cardiff playing against Nelson Bay in this year's Black Diamond preliminary final.
Cardiff playing against Nelson Bay in this year's Black Diamond preliminary final.

The AFL is pushing for a new entity to run the game in the Hunter and Central Coast, but the Black Diamond AFL board says it “doesn’t need saving”.

Officials from the AFL’s NSW/ACT branch met with senior and junior clubs this month to present them with a draft proposal for a new governance model which would merge the Hunter Coast junior league with the Black Diamond seniors.

The AFL model, which the league is rolling out nationally, includes a new seven-member board on which up to four directors would be approved by the AFL.

Hunter Coast juniors chairman Ross Hughes said his board backed the changes, but the BDAFL board is concerned the region will lose its independence.  

“It’s not a model I think is best suited to the region, and hopefully we’ll be able to negotiate a model which will appease all parties,” BDAFL president Wal Bembic said.

“I think by any measure the BDAFL is a pretty respected, well run organisation. I guess from our point of view we don’t need saving.

“We believe that one body should administer junior and senior football in the region. I guess the question is who’s the best body to do that.”

The AFL asked junior and senior clubs to submit feedback on its draft model by yesterday before they vote on a final plan in November.

Hughes said the Hunter Coast board urged its clubs to vote for the proposal.

“We see it as the best way for AFL in our region to move forward in terms of getting that closer linkage between juniors and seniors,” he said.

“And the AFL are offering further funding in the region which will provide more professionalism and administration support, which will also reduce the burden on our volunteers.

“It’s a little unfortunate that the senior competition doesn’t have a similar view.” 

The spectre of the Black Diamond losing its affiliation with the AFL hangs over the process, but Bembic said the BDAFL was largely self-sufficient anyway. It funds its operations manager and marketing and has investigated sourcing insurance and an online registration system.

“There’s nothing that would stop the ball being bounced on the first of April next year if we were unaffiliated,” Bembic said. “Don’t get me wrong: we want to be affiliated with the AFL. We want to be part of the family.”

A BDAFL club source said the AFL was “coming in with a bit of a sledgehammer”.

“It’s basically, ‘Fit in or we’re going to make life really difficult for you.’ The feedback from the clubs is that we’re happy for the AFL to come in, but they’ve got to set the competition up to fit the local environment. I just don’t think there’s a great deal of faith their system will work in Newcastle.”

All parties agree on the need to merge seniors and juniors, but a major point of contention is the AFL’s plans for a player-points system.

The BDAFL this season introduced strict limits on recruitment for dominant clubs City and Terrigal which the AFL opposes. The BDAFL has since moved towards a points system for next season, but this may still be at odds with AFL policy.

The club source said the BDAFL and the AFL appeared to have different “business plans”, one geared towards improving the competitiveness of the league and the AFL’s focused on growing participation.

The AFL said the BDAFL was the only area in the state where juniors and seniors were not aligned, had the equal lowest participation rate in NSW and struggled to retain juniors into seniors.

“Under an AFL-approved single-governance model, we will fund increased resourcing to support junior and senior competitions and clubs and decrease the costs to the leagues and clubs,” a spokesman said.

He said the a new entity’s staff would have local staff and board members “to ensure local ownership and strategic alignment regionally and with the AFL”.