This became evident Sunday morning in a brief discussion with Federal Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, and Australia’s CMO, Professor Brendan Murphy.
Both men had appeared on the ABC TV show Insiders and I proposed to Minister Hunt that I intended saying on the forthcoming episode of Offsiders that I believed both of Australia’s dominant winter football codes, AFL and NRL, had a duty of care to suspend their competitions until the spread of the virus had plateauxed.
Minister Hunt handballed the question to Professor Murphy, who argued his recommended ban on non-essential gatherings of 500 people or more would provide sufficient protection to stop the disease spreading, given that the numbers required to stage a football match were well under this.
Perhaps Professor Murphy’s Victorian background also influenced his answer, because he pointed out there were 36 players on the field and they are spread out, presenting minimal risk.
He was talking AFL, not NRL where there are 26 players on a smaller field. Furthermore, they pack into scrums and tackles usually involve four participants in very close contact.
But Professor Murphy conceded the situation could change, implying the federal government could increase the sanctions against communal gatherings.
V’landys agreed the situation was fluid, saying, “This can change by the hour. All decisions we make will have the safety and health of our players as paramount.”
V’landys, who doubles chief executive of Racing NSW, concedes the possibility of NRL games being suspended, even in empty stadiums, would be “catastrophic”, especially if the code was shut down by the end of this month.
With the NRL owning no assets and having exhausted its $6.8m Distressed Club Distribution Funds, the chances of this are high.
In which case, it’s not the ides but the odds of March he fears.
Roy Masters is a Sports Columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.