The league’s strong view is that in the event games have to be cancelled, they will seek to find windows in which they can be rescheduled and the bye rounds are the most likely time frame for those games.
What would happen in the event that games were cancelled in some states and not others remains uncertain.
AFL chief executive Gill McLachlan had said that he thought states were likely to fall into a national position but the situation is so fluid at the moment that restrictions are likely to vary between states.
Richmond also confirmed to The Age that the club expected the first game – a Richmond home game on Thursday next week – to go ahead as planned and that, as far as the club knew, it would be played before a crowd in the normal fashion.
The Tigers said they had received no advice that the game was a chance to be cancelled or postponed.
While the AFL acknowledged that the decisions on mass gatherings rested with government – as advised by the chief medical officer – a league spokesman said late on Thursday that there had been no change to their position, with round one planned to go ahead.
“Our expectation hasn’t changed,” he said.
“We continue to rely on the advice of the Australian government and relevant medical authorities and we’re preparing for the season to start.”
While the AFL’s view – like Richmond’s – is that there will be crowds in the first round, the league acknowledges that this is not a decision that rests with sporting bodies.
The Age has also confirmed one high profile player from a Melbourne club had been quarantined from his teammates on suspicion of having the virus. He was tested and cleared.
Questions remained about how the AFL and the clubs would deal with a positive test, or tests, from a player, but the AFL’s stated position was that, at this stage, in the event of a single positive to coronavirus, that player would be isolated for 14 days, while others who had any symptoms would be tested.
Whereas America’s NBA has taken the dramatic step of cancelling all games on the basis of contact between a single Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert, who tested positive to coronavirus, and other teams, and Juventus played Inter Milan without fans after a player tested positive to the virus and his team-mates were forced into 14 days of isolation, the AFL’s position was not that the whole team and football department would be isolated at this stage.
It was pointed out that the situation varies significantly between European countries because of different concentration levels of the virus across such a large geographic area.
The contingency planning is countenancing many options and working on a constantly shifting situation but the league said nothing had significantly changed in the last 24 hours and they were still following the advice of the chief medical officer and their advice on restrictions needed.
AFL clubs and VFL clubs have implemented a range of moves to limit their exposure to the virus.
A practice game at Carlton’s home, Ikon Park, between the Northern Blues and Frankston has been made a lock out, but Collingwood v North Melbourne at the Holden Centre will not be a lock out.
A game between Casey and Port Melbourne at Casey has been called a lock out.
Melbourne announced the relocation of their football department from AAMI Park to Casey.
The AFL confirmed all umpires would train individually, mindful that if one umpire went down and the group was quarantined it would have a more dramatic effect on the competition than a player testing positive to the virus.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.