GRASSROOTS football has been waylaid by a lack of trust, accountability and transparency in AFL Tasmania, a parliamentary committee has heard.
Public hearings for the standing committee on public accounts inquiry into AFL Tasmania's use of $500,000 in annual state government funding began yesterday.
The committee heard that the funding was supposed to be for running participation programs, coach and official training, club development, governance and marketing and development, among other matters.
But strident critic of AFL Tasmania, Michael Holmes, said the rise of the professional organisation correlated with a diminishment of community-run clubs in regional leagues.
Mr Holmes said the number of clubs in Tasmania's three regional leagues had dropped from 115 to 86 in the past 20 years, and the number of teams put forward had dropped from 232 to 147.
"AFL believes in an elite, top- down approach. And all you get with that is the elite," Mr Holmes said.
"Once you lose your club and the heart of your community, it's too late. You have to act first."
Save Tasmanian Football spokesman Paul Curtain told the committee that AFL Tasmania's distribution of government money was "more traceable" than most of its activities, but said the funding should be provided directly to the regional leagues.
Mr Curtain said AFL Tasmania had acquired community teams by "stealth" by incorporating some in the Tasmanian Football League, with the aim of providing an elite training ground for draft picks, and that resulted in a sharp drop in attendance at games and community support.
Both he and Mr Holmes said they were "disgusted" at AFL Tasmania chief executive Scott Wade's refusal to appear before a public hearing of the committee.
Mr Wade has defended his organisation's use of the funds and said he would give evidence in private but not publicly, because the organisation was "not on trial".
Committee hearings will be held in Launceston tomorrow.