Misunderstanding during shortened AFL season led to ‘devastating’ fine for salary cap breach, regional club says

a greay brick building with a blue green sign that read dimbool football netball club

The president of a country football-netball club says a salary cap infringement that cost the club $10,000 was due to a misunderstanding when the 2021 season was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Key points:

  • The Dimboola Football Netball Club has been punished after breaching the salary cap in the 2021 season
  • The Wimmera-based club says the breach came from misunderstanding the rules when the season was cancelled early due to COVID-19
  • A rival club says the punishment is “harsh”, as clubs in small towns are forced to recruit players from far and wide to stay afloat

The Dimboola Football Netball Club was fined $10,000 — with another $10,00 fine suspended pending further breaches — and had 12 premiership points deducted from its senior football side for the 2022 season, after what AFL Victoria described as a “clear” breach of the salary cap.

Dimboola club president Justin Ward said the breach had been caused by the club not understanding that its annual salary cap would be adjusted on a per-game basis.

Dimboola played just 11 games before the Wimmera Football Netball League season was cancelled in 2021 because of COVID-19.

This effectively reduced the club’s salary cap for the season from $112,000 to $77,000.

Mr Ward said he had not been aware the cap would change so significantly in an altered season, and the infringement was “devastating” for the club.

“It’s unfortunate we didn’t know the pro-rata system … but looking back now the rules were in place and were available to us at the time and we acknowledge that.”

a greay brick building with a blue green sign that read dimbool football netball club
The club also had 12 premiership points deducted for the 2022 season.(ABC Wimmera)

Mr Ward thanked AFL Victoria for its “professional” process and handling of the matter, but said there was room for more education for club volunteers regarding the salary cap.

“It’s very complex — we most definitely would like some more education and I’m sure other clubs would be in the same position,” he said.

As part of its penalties, Dimboola also had its available player points for the 2022 season reduced by 15 per cent, down to 38 total team points.

In a statement, the Dimboola Football Netball Club committee said Mr Ward would remain as the club’s president, after it found he had not acted negligently to cause the infringement.

Sympathy from rival

Nathan Williams, president of fellow Wimmera league club the Southern Mallee Giants, said he had sympathy for Dimboola.

Mr Williams said clubs across the region had struggled for years to field competitive football sides in the face of declining country populations.

Dimboola had a population of 1,730 at the time of the 2016 census.

“It did take us by surprise — we don’t know the details, but it seems pretty harsh to me,” Mr Williams said.

“[Recruiting players] from Melbourne, interstate, wherever else just to survive. This is happening at clubs right across Victoria.”

Mr Williams said the punishment acted as a warning for other clubs across the region.

“I definitely think they’ve made an example of them,” he said.

AFL football on the ground at a country Victoria football session.AFL football on the ground at a country Victoria football session.
The salary cap was introduced across Victoria in 2017.(ABC News)

Salary cap breaches ‘rare’

AFL Victoria country football manager John O’Donohue said clubs were chosen at random or selected due to “red flags” to have their finances regularly reviewed.

He said a club breaching the salary cap was rare, but there had been several infringements since the cap was introduced in 2017.

Mr O’Donohue said there was also “plenty of support” and education available for volunteers involved in managing finances at clubs.

“We want to make sure that clubs are managing their finances, but also that players are managing their expectations about payments,” he said.

“We want clubs to educate players that the demands they’ve made in past years will have to change to make sure the club is within the cap.”



Author: Ivan Robinson