Moving Central Australia’s community football competition back into remote communities will bolster their economic development and help grow the sport, Northern Territory Sports Minister Kate Worden says.

The competition has been in turmoil since the Alice Springs Town Council blocked players and spectators from accessing its sporting fields, effectively forcing the 2023 season to be played outside of Alice Springs.

AFLNT has opposed the decision and called for an “urgent summit” with stakeholders to find a way forward for the competition, which is due to start in May.

Speaking to ABC Radio Alice Springs on Monday, Ms Worden joined calls for the competition to be played in remote communities, as is done with other football leagues across the country.

“By its very name, it’s community football … and community football is played right the way across Australia,” she said.

“I’ve been saying this for over 12 months myself: community football should be played on community.

a middle aged woman with silver/blonde hair squinting
Kate Worden believes the 2023 community competition can go ahead as scheduled, despite the stoush over sporting fields.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

“It contributes to real localised economies out on remote [communities], and there’s cost savings for participants around transport, and it means that communities can host games and show off their communities to others.”

Ms Worden said it was important to develop additional hubs outside of Alice Springs, where infrastructure such as sporting fields and change rooms can support an influx of people visitors from other communities.

She said running the competition in remote communities would lay the groundwork for developing additional fixtures, including a women’s league and children’s games.

“It’s much more than just kicking a footy,” she said.

“We also have to make sure that this provides a pathway for those football players that want to [make it professionally] — the Liam Jurrahs of the world — we’ve got to make sure that that competition is in place.

“We shouldn’t wait for perfect, we shouldn’t wait for every community to have an oval and a changing room up to standard for this to get going.”

In Santa Teresa (Ltyentye Apurte), 80 kilometres south-east of Alice Springs, the community’s oval was recently grassed as part of a four-year project supported by the Melbourne Football Club.

People on a green footy oval in Santa Teresa, with houses and a mountain range in the backdrop.
Mr Hayes says Santa Teresa will need support if it is to host games at the upcoming community football competition.(ABC Alice Springs: Mitchell Abram)

Graham “Scrubby” Hayes, manager of the Ltyentye Apurte Football Club, said it would be difficult, but not impossible, for the township to host part of the community competition.

“If we take on the competition here, it could cause a lot of problems in terms of umpires and transport,” he said.

“But if we sometimes host, and we get help from the CAFL (Central Australian Football League) with night patrols and police, then I think we could run it.”

Mr Hayes suggested the town council host a meeting with coaches, stipulating conditions for community competition games to be played in Alice Springs.

“If players are running amok, they might get a strike, and if they keep acting up their whole team might be suspended,” he said.

Footy team celebrates in the NT AFL competition
The Alice Springs Council will not allow the community competition to be played on any council-owned fields.(ABC Alice Springs: Xavier Martin)

“The council could also require teams to have a bus waiting for them at the end of games so that they don’t get stuck in town.”

Over the weekend, AFLNT released a further statement, again calling on the council to reconsider its position.

“AFLNT remains committed to exhausting all possible options in search of a solution to allow the community competition to be completed in 2023,” a spokesperson said.

“We think it is the wrong outcome to take football away from the young men and women of Central Australia.

“Football is an important part of the culture and is integral to so many people’s lives in Central Australia.”

AFLNT also said it remained committed to addressing “significant infrastructure deficits” in remote communities that will support football being played in these communities in the future.