Teams will play with the same number of interchanges, 90, throughout the reduced season.
The AFL’s decision followed a long, dramatic day when clubs were uncertain, until nearly 8pm, whether the games would go on. The AFL call will be welcomed by the clubs, which were unanimous in wanting the games to be played, as were nearly all players, despite some public criticism of the sport’s position in the face of the coronavirus and potential backlash from outside the game.
In making the call to play on, the AFL hierarchy was reassured by the words of federal chief medical officer Brendan Murphy, who spoke to the AFL Commission meeting about the level of risks in playing football. McLachlan later cited Murphy’s influence, saying the AFL would be “confident after discussions with the chief medical officer that our players are well placed to bear the proportionate risk of playing a contact sport”.
McLachlan said he understood the AFLPA push to continue with a 22-game season, a view supported by numerous AFL players. ‘‘That’s their view, I completely understand it,’’ McLachlan said.
‘‘It’s going to be a long year. It’s going to be a long journey in what is an unprecedented time. We can’t lock ourselves in our house.’’
He said he was comfortable Marvel Stadium would fit the government protocols for indoor gatherings because of having people in different rooms.
McLachlan acknowledged that the entire season could be played without crowds. “It feels like a possibility,” he said.
Clubs are braced for playing a lengthy part of the season without crowds, a position that is dictated by the government and the chief health officer and which will have a massive financial impact.
McLachlan said the league knew that the season would cease at some point due to the coronavirus. He has said one positive test to a player would stop games, and a number of players have been tested for virus thus far with no positives yet detected.
In a separate announcement, the AFLW competition will move immediately to its finals series for 2020. The AFL hasn’t yet determined the structure of the women’s finals but they will have eight teams – the top four from each conference.
This means North Melbourne, Fremantle, Carlton, Greater Western Sydney, Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast, Melbourne and Collingwood will play finals.
The AFL’s decision to play on was not made official until right on 24 hours before the Richmond-Carlton game, with clubs in the dark throughout the afternoon and early evening, although some had felt that the games would go on around lunchtime after a phone hook-up between McLachlan and club CEOs.
The Bulldogs will host Collingwood on Friday night at Marvel Stadium in the second game, with the remaining games as follows: Essendon v Fremantle, Adelaide v Sydney, Gold Coast v Port Adelaide and GWS v Geelong all on Saturday, then North Melbourne v St Kilda, Hawthorn v Brisbane and West Coast v Melbourne will be played Sunday.
The AFL fixture, though, is set to be revised with games compressed and shorter breaks between matches.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.
Sam McClure won the Clinton Grybas rising star award at the AFL media association awards in 2015.
Daniel is an Age sports reporter