“We want to obey the rules, but we just don’t know how”: COVID protocols pile pressure on volunteers

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With club cricket set to resume this weekend, the return to play protocols for community sport are putting pressure on volunteers after the Victorian state government stopped short of mandating that participants be fully vaccinated before playing or coaching.

Last week the government declared that patrons participating in, or facilitating community sport (players, coaches, or volunteers) did not need to be vaccinated to play, however they would have to adhere to local rules relating to access of grounds in schools or council-managed clubrooms that require people using them to be fully vaccinated.

There is confusion throughout community sport when it comes to the return to play guidelines.Credit:Alamy

One cricket club president described the move as “passing the buck” as it left volunteers to police rules which may differ depending on where their club plays games, and from club to club as Cricket Victoria encouraged, rather than demanded, participants be vaccinated.

Under the government rules, players can play without being vaccinated but will be unable to be in the rooms for a social activity after the match unless vaccinated, with volunteers made responsible for checking individuals’ vaccine status.

Clubs are also being forced to follow specific council and school rules that may ban unvaccinated players from being in their facilities or on their grounds.

In most instances no one will be banned from using toilets, and any player can use change rooms during the match, but not post-match unless vaccinated if the rooms are being used as a social venue, which adds to the confusion. Club volunteers are also uncertain whether they can demand to see an individual’s vaccination status.

Ferntree Gully and District Cricket Association (FTGDCA) president Colin Capon echoed the views across clubs and competitions throughout Melbourne.

Participants in community sport – including players, coaches, and volunteers – are feeling the strain.Credit:Shutterstock

“We want to obey the rules, but we just don’t know how and don’t know that we are able [to check vaccination status]. Cricket Victoria [has] been fantastic in trying to get information from the government, but greater clarity would be useful,” Capon said.

A club official involved in the Box Hill Reporter competition said the government and ruling bodies needed to be reasonable in what they asked of volunteers.

“We’re all volunteers, and we just want to play cricket, and for someone to police that…most people will do the right thing but if someone refuses, what do you do?” the club official said.

With cricket competitions due to start this week, many clubs have been in a mad rush to ensure their members understood the rules and there were people in place to monitor compliance with Cricket Victoria’s club support manager Paul Milo saying they were trying hard to assist clubs to comply.

Youlden-Parkville Cricket Club is one of several clubs that decided to make it mandatory for all their players, coaches, and volunteers 16 years and older and eligible for vaccination to be fully vaccinated to play and train with the club.

Their club president Paul Sinclair said the response to the committee’s decision had been positive overall, with the decision based on their desire for everyone who walked through the club to feel comfortable in their environment.

He empathised with the difficult position the government’s policy placed sporting authorities and clubs in, and said it made sense for Cricket Victoria to take a position on the matter rather than leave it up to each club.

“Cricket Victoria could provide more leadership by being clear around the need for mandated vaccinations for people 16 years and above. That would make life easier, safer and more welcoming,” Sinclair said.

Cricket Victoria said they would have come under criticism if they had adopted a different position to the government and with the potential for further shifts in the coming weeks they decided it was best to work with the complexity.

“There is a greater level of health expertise at state government level than at Cricket Victoria, so we thought we would deal with the information that came down and try to assist clubs to manage that,” Milo said.

“The broad advice, in general terms, we have tried to give to clubs is that players can play the game whether they are vaccinated or not…it’s just unvaccinated spectators need to stay out of the change rooms.”

The Cricket Southern Bayside competition have advised clubs that anyone playing, coaching, officiating or spectating cricket matches on school grounds needed to be fully vaccinated, while clubs in the outer east had to comply with the Yarra Ranges shire’s directions relating to clubrooms they own to ensure COVID compliance.

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