The hubs have a number of problems. They will be ludicrously expensive, costing as much as $40 million to $50 million. Some club doctors raised objections at a meeting of club medicos on Monday night, since they, too, would be locked down for the duration – and thus have to leave their practices (doctors, while very well-paid, are part-timers). The same would apply to any part-time staffer, such as physios.
Those problems could be surmounted – at least one would hope they could be overcome when the AFL is spending $40m and getting advice from BHP (an AFL sponsor). But for all the hub-abaloo, there’s a view among clubs that the hubs may not be necessary.
Certainly, they can safely assume the 20-week hub that the AFL put forward to the players will not eventuate. The AFL was only putting the worst possible outcome to the players. It is even possible that the AFL knew there would be a backlash.
Now, the league is privately saying that there might only be a hybrid hub model, a half-way house between being locked-up and staying at home at particular times.
While the players obviously are indispensable and they have expressed misgivings about hubs, they are not the party that the AFL needs on side the most in the coming days.
No, the people whom Gillon and the gang need to persuade first are the governments’ chief medical officers, who will review the AFL (and NRL) plans for returning to play on Friday in what shapes as one of their most important moments in the return-to-play campaign.
Provided they convince the medical officers that their health and safety protocols cut the COVID mustard, the AFL then will be relying on the relevant state governments either, a) opening the borders in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland, or b) allowing the AFL a special exemption to charter planes, fly in and fly out, for the specific purpose of playing West Coast, Fremantle, the Crows, Port and the Queensland clubs.
Since the Murray is allowed to be crossed by teams from Victoria and NSW, travel between those states should not be an issue.
All signs point to the Morrison government giving the all-clear for the AFL, a position that will please the players, it is just a question of whether the premiers and their health officers in WA, SA and Queensland are willing to play ball.
One can never predict precisely what will happen in this weird world of COVID-19 and football, but I’d be surprised, on this occasion, if the AFL – the best-connected and most powerful sporting competition in the country – can’t get a free kick that will make their season much less compromised, which is to say, not hubbed-in.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.