FOOTBALL Wagga has taken the extraordinary step of banning spectators from senior matches.
The Football Wagga board informed clubs of the decision on Wednesday night, with the ban to take effect immediately.
The decision comes as the code looks to meet the requirements set out for community sport in the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Football Wagga is not the first sporting code in the region to adopt this policy, following on from Southern Inland Rugby Union's decision earlier in the month.
Football Wagga president Tony Dobbin explained that the ban was a result of a better understanding of what is required in the current environment.
"The restrictions and the requirements are becoming clearer and clearer to us," Dobbin said.
"I have to admit it takes a while for everything to sink in but we've gone through them and it's no spectators. This is particularly for seniors, in juniors obviously because they're under 18 they still require a parent or a carer. For miniroos that is the same, that is allowable but we're asking one parent per player.
"For seniors, we have to get the number of spectators down."
Football Wagga have allowed crowds to the opening three rounds of competition but have asked those in attendance to obey social distancing rules.
Now, it will be essential personnel only. Players, coaching staff, managers, officials but no spectators.
"We don't want to get to the point where we can't sustain what we're doing because we have spectators," Dobbin explained.
"The other thing is, we're saying to the players arrive geared up, which they all do anyway, go on, play and then go home. Don't hang around.
"One of things that has emerged over the last particular weekend was players will finish a game, come back and then they'll start watching the next team, that's also what we're trying to stop."
Dobbin said it was not an easy position to come to. Especially when in any other circumstances, they would be encouraging spectators to attend.
"It's club spirit to stay and watch, and to support other clubs. We encourage some of the younger players to come and watch the senior matches because, hey, that's where I'll be one day but now we've got to turn it on its head," he said.
"And that's difficult for people. It's taken us a few rounds to understand where our obligations lie and some of the practical things that have come up over it."
While for many of the grounds outside of Wagga the policy will be straight forward to implement, the open nature of Rawlings Park provides some difficulties.
"The unfortunate situation with our grounds in Wagga are all open parkland and there are no fences whereas other clubs that are in our competition, they actually have grounds with fences and gates and they are actually locking people in and out," Dobbin said.
"We just can't do that. So in order to keep our social distancing and social contacts down, we've gone to what's been requested of us, which is no spectators unfortunately."
Wagga City Wanderers adhere to a different set of rules under the ACT-based Capital Football.
Spectators are still allowed at senior matches but social distancing regulations are in place. One parent per player is encouraged at junior matches, along with social distancing practices.
Meantime, Football Wagga will make some changes to the fixtures in coming weeks due to ground unavailability.
A wet winter and Football Wagga's desire to keep grounds in good condition for the business end of the season mean some changes are being made.
"Rawlings Five and Six are out of action at the moment due to heavy wear and tear so we'll be moving matches to Forest Hill and the Showground," Dobbin said.
"We're restricted in the Rawlings grounds we can use and that's now a week by week proposition."