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Following the Victorian Premier’s announcement of the easing of restrictions on 26 October, the South Metro Junior Football League (SMJFL) is proud to announce that junior football will return to Metropolitan Melbourne this weekend with the launch of its Monash University ‘Football 4 Fun’ program.

The Football 4 Fun program will be offered free of charge to SMJFL players and will run for four weeks commencing Sunday 15 November 2020, running until Sunday 6 December.

The SMJFL resolved in July that a 2020 Season would not be possible in its traditional format due to the second lockdown, and pledged to work on its alternate offerings and bring football back to the community by the end of the year.

During lockdown, the league developed the Football 4 Fun program with its key stakeholders ready for when it would be deemed safe to return to community sport under the Victorian Government restrictions and guidelines.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been widespread, not only throughout grassroots and elite sport across the country, but throughout all aspects of our lives.

Victorians have faced one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, experiencing social restrictions since 16 March 2020. After 112 days in lockdown, the league is ecstatic to provide an opportunity for kids to return to football this Sunday.

In a survey VicHealth conducted throughout the first lockdown period earlier this year, it was found almost 1 in 4 Victorians didn’t feel socially connected to others, a stark increase from 1 in 10 before the pandemic struck.

Children have been among the most impacted particularly in 2020, with lockdown enforced during a crucial period in their physical, mental and social development.

The league recognises the important role community sport plays in the betterment of children’s mental and physical health. Physical activity has been shown to be crucial for both the mind and body in many ways, boosting mood, improving sleep and energy, and providing the opportunity to foster social relationships with others.

Football is returning to Melbourne’s South East on Sunday.

SMJFL Chief Executive Officer, Sarah Loh has been motivated to provide kids the opportunity to play football with their friends this year watching the impact the pandemic has had on kids.

“We’ve ridden the wave with the rest of Victoria and sadly had to cancel the League’s 2020 traditional football season at the eleventh hour in April and July.”

“The South Metro Junior Football League is at the heartland of football and participation, and we are beyond thrilled to bring football back to our community thanks to the generosity of our corporate partners, affiliates and local governments – in particular to our long term Major Sponsor, Monash University, and Community Partner, the St Kilda Football Club.”

“We’ve worked hard with our LGAs to ensure that the league’s program won’t interfere with summer sports.”

Major Sponsor of the Football 4 Fun program Monash University spoke about the impact the Football 4 Fun program will have for the players of the league.

“Monash University has been a proud supporter and partner of the South Metro Junior Football League for the past 4 years, and we are honoured to sponsor the Football 4 Fun initiative.”

“In what has been a very difficult year for so many families, this fun, free four-week program is a fantastic way for children to connect with their clubs, their teammates and make new friends.”

VicHealth Executive Manager of Programs Group Kirstan Corben said the Football 4 Fun program will have a significant benefit for the physical and mental health of the league’s players.

“We know that physical activity has huge physical and mental health benefits for kids, so it’s great that SMJFL is working hard to provide their players with an opportunity to get active,” said Ms Corben.

“After what has been a very challenging year, it’s really important that they have the chance to reconnect socially with their teammates in a COVID-safe manner.”

Head of AFL Victoria Brad Scott said he is looking forward to seeing grassroots football resume in Melbourne’s South-East.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on grassroots sport across our region. With the SMJFL adhering to all AFL Victoria COVID protocols in line with the Victorian State Government guidelines, it will be exciting to see boys and girls playing footy again”

The league would like to thank Bayside City Council, Kingston City Council, Port Philip City Council, Stonnington City Council, Sandringham Zebras Football Club and St Kilda Football Club for providing the venues for the Football 4 Fun program.

The league would also like to acknowledge all its corporate partners, member clubs and AFL Victoria for their assistance in making the Football 4 Fun program possible and their work in finalising COVID-Safe protocols.

St Kilda Football Club as the league’s Major Community Partner has provided the use of the Linton Street grounds, enabling the league to launch the program at our joint headquarters at RSEA Park in Moorabbin.

St Kilda Football Club Chief Executive Officer Matt Finnis said he looked forward to junior football coming back to Moorabbin.

“It is so wonderful to see boys and girls from all over Melbourne’s south coming back together to enjoy the sport we all love.”

“We’re really proud to host this event at RSEA Park and look forward to welcoming our community back further as restrictions continue to ease.”

SMJFL Ambassador and St Kilda AFLW Coach Peta Searle said it will be fantastic to see football return to the South East Metro region once more.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an incredible impact on sport across the country, including the cancellation of the VFLW season, which I saw have a significant impact on our players,” said Ms Searle.

“It’s important that we understand the importance of sport from a mental health perspective. It’s so exciting to see the SMJFL stay strong in these times and create the Football 4 Fun program for its members,” said Ms Searle.

The league looks forward to seeing our players returning to our great game in the coming weeks.

If you have any queries about the program, please contact your club directly.