Footy is not bigger than life and death


The coronavirus crisis is going to get worse before it gets better, that much is clear. It is going to take the whole of society to beat this bloody thing, and minimisation is the first necessary step.

But footy? It emerged that in anticipation of an imminent start to the season, Fremantle are isolating some players not from each other, but from their families.

What does that do for social cohesion at a time when cohesion is all we have? What does that say about priorities?

The more we are told to keep our distance from the outside world, the more important our nearest and dearest become. This should have been obvious.

The argument that footy can act as a distraction does not hold water. What we need now is concentration, not diversion. This is not the time for bread and circuses.

Besides, what bread, what circuses? X games, crammed into x weeks. A bastardised game, shorter, with more players, though not necessarily all the best, because none will be obliged to play, and no crowds. What sort of “season” is that? And what if the already drastic restrictions on free association became tighter still, as seems likely?

What will be left then, except hasty cancellation and a long period of repenting at leisure?

It is easy and popular to characterise the AFL as too big for its boots. You want desperately to believe otherwise. You know that there are wise heads in there. And yet as the hours dragged on Tuesday, you wondered.

The clubs wanted to play. The AFL wanted them to play, biting a chunk out of next cricket season if that is what it took.

Evidently it meant the game couldn’t talk itself out of it.

Separately, the players make it known that they would accept a pay cut, but arch their backs when 20 per cent is suggested.

Hospitals are filling. People are dying. The economy is being smashed. Businesses are shutting their doors, many for good. People are losing their jobs. Chief executives are countenancing pay cuts, for goodness’ sake; that is how serious this is.

But AFL players blanche at the idea that their average wage should be trimmed back to less than $300,000 a head. Some of the businesses that might have to shut their doors are their own clubs, and for once, that does not smack of crying wolf.

To which the players say, well, you know.

If the world was not already so full of white coronavirus noise, this stance would have caused outrage.

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As it happens, the bus loads who rushed out to raid the shelves of small country town supermarkets and toffs in the suburbs filling their freezers with meat before anyone else could lay their hands even on a chop have stolen the lowest moral ground. Literally, they take the cake.

This cannot have been an easy decision. For a start, there was no precedent. At least in war time, everyone understood the need for stringencies. Now, Alan Jones would have you believe that coronavirus is all a con.

Through an involvement in amateur footy, I know how the landscape keeps moving, making some positions redundant before they are even fully formed. No wonder the AFL meeting was a marathon. No doubt every stone was turned. You can sympathise with the weight that sat on the shoulders of the decision-makers and believe they made their decision in good faith, and still disagree with it. The landscape does keep moving, but only in one direction.

However long this thing lasts, it is clear that we are going to emerge as a changed society afterwards. In it, we will or should reconsider everything we stand for and do. That makes it all the more incomprehensible that the AFL should chance its reputation on a few nearly meaningless footy matches now.

Coronavirus is life and death. Though footy sometimes feels and acts as if it is more important than that, it isn’t, and never can be.

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