But he appears to have been caught holding the ball, brimming one moment at the prospect of a $10 million economic windfall to host teams for six to eight weeks, while refusing to bend the state’s strict coronavirus measures that have WA resisting the spread of the virus better than most others.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said on Friday rules were different in each state and changing every day.
“The more it opens up, the more flexible and adaptive we can be with how we restart the season,” he told Radio 3AW.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hinted professional sport could return soon as the AFL waits on the states easing coronavirus restrictions before deciding how and where to kick the reduced season off.
A list of 15 national principles for the resumption of sport and recreation activities was released on Friday, an overarching framework to ensue and allow for amateur, recreational and professional competitions to resume across a sport-starved country.
AFL hub in WA hangs in balance
With further decisions on lifting restrictions due next Friday, ultimately governments will make a final call on how the AFL and NRL could restart their competitions.
The Northern Territory – which does not have a team in the AFL but is as mad about football as WA, Victorians an South Australians – on Friday offered to solve the impasse by inviting the league to host all 18 teams there, and in front of crowds, with the region having the lowest number of COVID-19 cases by far.
After urging players to draw inspiration from FIFO employees and workers who spent considerable time away from family and home, Mr McGowan on Friday stood firm that if the AFL reverted to its usual home-and-away fixture in 2020, WA would likely not host any matches.
“The health advice is, and our border restrictions mean, that a 14-day quarantine period would be required,” he said.
“You know, lots of West Australians fly out to dusty dongas in the middle of the desert where they work 12 hours a day and are away from their families and lots of people travel away from their families for long periods of time.
“I just urge the footballers that … it’s not unusual, and this is an opportunity, and I think they should grab it.”
The AFL said it would spend Friday evening analysing the national cabinet’s deliberations before talking to club chiefs and players before pulling the trigger on how it might restart the season.
The league remains hopeful that if hubs are required to restart the season, players would only be quarantined in them for a maximum eight weeks.
Mr McGowan said players had a chance to be part of history by playing in hubs this season.
“They can be part of history, a part of history in football and I urge them to be part of it. If you have to be away for five or seven weeks then, that’s an experience that I think they should embrace,” he said.
“I know lots of people who work FIFO who go away for those periods of time, all year, very year. I know people in the navy … when I was in the navy, the ships used to sail, you’d wave goodbye and they wouldn’t come back for six or eight months. They were away that long from their families, and I think the AFL players should see this as an adventure.”
If the AFL cannot persuade relevant governments to a less extreme arrangement than hubs such as a home-and-away schedule with the strictest of quarantining measures and daily testing, it will face the sternest test of its relationship with AFL states.
Signs point to Mr Morrison and National Cabinet next Friday greenlighting the AFL to soon resume proceedings, but the final call will lay with the premiers and their health officers, and the delicate risks of a trade-off between sport and safety.
West Coast has ordered players to return to WA by May 11, signalling clubs plan to start mandatory three-week training before the competition resumes.
A request by the Eagles and Dockers to have their players train in groups of 10 after the state relaxed its social gathering measures on Monday were denied by the league after widespread claim it would be unfair on other clubs.
The allowance of players to bring family members into hubs could also break any deadlock, although that represents a significant cost increase to the league at a time it is desperate to resume playing and receiving funds from broadcasters.
“The no-family part at the moment is a genuine issue,” AFL Players Association boss Paul Marsh said on Thursday.
“Most reasonably minded people would look at it and say how can you expect someone who has got a young baby or a parent that is ill or no family around them – how do you expect that player to be away for 20 of 21 weeks?”
David writes about sports and lifestyle for WAtoday.