Sports Minister Terry Waldron is adamant that regional WAFL matches will not be jeopardised by West Coast and Fremantle's decision to ban their players from the game at Kalannie tomorrow.
Five AFL listed players - West Perth's Andrew Strijk (West Coast) and Kepler Bradley and Jay van Berlo (both Fremantle), and East Fremantle duo Sam Menegola and Cameron Sutcliffe (both Dockers) - will play reserves at Arena Joondalup tomorrow rather than travel to the Wheatbelt town.
As West Perth claimed that the decision to withdraw the AFL players had risked the future of the State Government's country sport enrichment scheme, the local AFL clubs said their hands were tied by AFL rules about regional games.
The presence of a synthetic cricket pitch at the ground at the tiny Wheatbelt town of just 287 people triggered the AFL veto.
"The AFL said they would not sanction the game," a West Coast spokesman said.
"We are not opposed to country matches and understand the importance of promoting grassroots football.
"But we will not allow our players to take part in a match that the AFL refuses to endorse."
The Shire of Dalwallinu last month spent $40,000 ensuring the ground met WAFL standards, including covering the rubber pitch with an extra overlay.
WAFL operations manager Cameron Knapton inspected the Wheatbelt ground this week and passed it fit to host league football. He confirmed the AFL would not allow players to appear at a ground with an artificial cricket pitch.
"There is no question that the Kalannie ground is good enough to play a WAFL match," Knapton said.
"The grass is even, the recent rains have helped out and the cricket pitch is not a risk to player safety. It certainly meets our requirements and that is why I said it was good to go.
"But there are different requirements for AFL players in regional matches, including a minimum standard of no synthetic wickets."
The decision to hold out the players has raised doubts about future matches at small regional centres and is the latest episode in rising tensions between the local AFL clubs and the nine WAFL teams.
Home team West Perth were furious at the snub with president Brett Raponi saying it jeopardised the future of all country matches.
"It is a slap in the face to the WAFL and the Central Wheatbelt Football League who worked diligently to have the oval up to the required standard," Raponi said.
"The future of these games could now be in jeopardy."
But Waldron was adamant they weren't."The AFL clubs' decision does not in any way affect the future of Country Sport Enrichment funding," he said. "As Minister, I fully support, and this Government will continue to support, WAFL games being played in regional areas."
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