AFL Goldfields general manager Rod Ward has slammed the call for an independent review into the relationship between AFL Victoria and rural and community football/netball clubs.
Ward hit out at a petition lodged on change.org by former AFL Gippsland commissioner John White who has called on action from Minister for Sport Martin Pakula.
The petition has five main "terms of reference".
1. AFL Vic is out of tune with community expectations and is failing to provide leadership, direction and education to rural and community clubs. Our outcome is to: Have AFL Vic listen to grassroots participants.
2. AFL Vic is driving costs up which cannot be sustained by rural and community football/netball clubs. Our outcome is to: Have the cost of volunteer based clubs on a shared basis with AFL Vic.
3. AFL Vic fails to recognise the importance of community and the need to have strong football/netball clubs who galvanise communities. Our outcome is to: Have AFL Vic support communities in building strong relationships within communities.
4. The AFL fails to adequately fund community football/netball clubs from the $50.4 million profit in made in 2018. Our outcome is to: Have AFL Vic make greater investments in rural community football and provide more funding
5. AFL Vic does not consult and hear the "voice of the bush" and decisions are made without true consultation. Our outcome is to: Have local people represented at all times with decisions made by local people for the good of the local communities.
Ward was upset with the petition.
"First and foremost, it accuses AFL Victoria for being out of touch with country people. Well when the Jackson Review took place eight years ago, one of the recommendations was that responsibility for country football be decentralised from head office. And as a result of that, 11 local commissions were put in place so the local commissions could be in touch," Ward said.
"AFL football is still the second cheapest participation sport to play behind cricket."
"What AFL does better than any other sport is they invest back into the local facilities and into local sport.
"Last year AFL Victoria provided $2.7million in local facility funding - I don't know another sport that would have done that at grassroots level," Ward said.
"Further, 28 full time football development managers and 10 regional general managers were employed by AFL Victoria to support country clubs in each region.
"There is no other sport that has made such an investment to support their local clubs and local volunteers..."
Ward conceded there are some issues and challenges within the AFL Goldfields region and pointed to the failure of Smythesdale as evidence of that.
"What I'm not blind to is that there is issues and certainly losing Smythesdale last year was really disappointing, but I think the model is proven in most parts of the state to work."
Ward said AFL Goldfields participation numbers had been growing at about 6-8 per cent over the last few years and that it was not all related to the surge in female football.
"Over the last three years, we've had 55 new under-9 sides created," he said.
On Friday afternoon, the petition on change.org had more than 900 signatures.