Key club officials and players spoken to by The Age on Sunday were expecting the league would shed light on its plans across several meetings on Monday, including one featuring club general managers of football and a planned teleconference of senior coaches.
Players were also set to have their say on Monday via an online link-up of AFL Players’ Association club delegates, before a Monday night teleconference involving every AFL player in which players will be surveyed on their views, which can then be conveyed to the league.
Bracing for inevitable financial hardship as a result of the virus, the AFL is not planning on asking for a government stimulus package, unlike rugby league, which has called for a federal government bailout in the wake of the ban on mass public gatherings.
However, acutely aware of the potentially disastrous impact on the industry – including massive financial losses and potential job losses – the AFL has told clubs it is desperate to play as much of the season as possible. The jamming of matches in quick succession and with smaller than usual breaks for clubs is on the cards, with clubs expecting to learn more about the AFL’s novel fixture plans on Monday.
Key figures from non-Victorian clubs have floated the possibility that their teams could have extended early-season road trips to minimise travel. An example would be Fremantle staying in Melbourne to play three matches in 10 or 11 days.
Measures being discussed to help clubs manage these unprecedented playing demands include:
- Extended interchange benches;
- top-up players
- shorter quarters
One club said on Sunday that it was hopeful the AFL would try to ensure that some blockbuster fixtures were left unplayed until later in the season in a bid to ease the financial pain, rather than being played behind closed doors in the coming weeks.
A senior club also said that the AFL has indicated to clubs that it is working closely with partner airline Virgin to protect and isolate players as much as possible when they travel interstate in coming weeks.
Clubs have gone into lockdown, banning visitors from entering their premises as the AFL looks to minimise the chances that players contract the disease.
However the situation remains perilous. Senior club figures, including some privy to the AFL’s medical plans for the virus, said on Sunday that given the fast-moving nature of the crisis, there was no guarantee that positive tests early this week wouldn’t then force the league’s hand and mean the season was postponed immediately, just as happened in the United States when NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive.
Meanwhile the AFL is privately playing down the chances that the AFLW grand final could be expedited to ensure that a premiership is decided before coronavirus halts play. It has been mooted that Fremantle and North Melbourne – currently top of the respective AFLW conferences – could play off for the flag next weekend despite there being two rounds of the home and away season plus three weeks of finals still scheduled.
But the idea came as news to Dockers coach Trent Cooper after his side’s win over the Western Bulldogs at an empty Whitten Oval on Sunday.
Daniel is an Age sports reporter