The AFL is suspending its season in response to the coronavirus outbreak, following announcements by state and federal governments to restrict non-essential travel in Australia.
- The playing of matches will be halted until May 31, with a review at the end of April — but the AFLW season will not be completed
- The AFL first reduced its 2020 season from 22 games for each team to 17 in response to the coronavirus outbreak
- The NRL has taken a different approach, with the league intending to proceed with games until it is told to stop
However, the NRL will continue for the time being, with the league committing to playing on until it receives Government advice that matches should be shut down.
“It is continuing. We said from the outset that we would listen to the government authorities and the health authorities and our experts,” Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’Landys told Channel Nine.
“Nothing has changed from our end. The government authorities haven’t told us to shut down or not play.”
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan announced the decision to suspend matches until at least May 31, from the conclusion of Sunday’s games.
He also confirmed the AFLW season would be concluded immediately, with no premiership awarded.
“The decision by various state governments to close their borders and travel bans and other measures, meant it was time to immediately stop the AFLW and AFL competitions,” McLachlan said.
“To say that this is the most serious threat to our game in 100 years is an understatement. It is unprecedented in its impact.
“As a community and as a code we all need to take the unprecedented and required actions to get through this together.”
The question of whether the 2020 season would start in the first place was only answered 24 hours before the scheduled start last Thursday, when the AFL confirmed the 22-round season was being cut by five.
McLachlan also announced that the league had to be flexible, saying the “17-round season becomes a 153-game journey”.
The confirmation of a shortened season was accompanied by a decision to reduce games to 16 minutes a quarter plus time on. Now that shortened season is on pause.
McLachlan says plan is to play all remaining games this year
“It was the right decision to start the season and today it is clearly now the right decision to stop,” McLachlan said.
“That is why we have acted immediately to take this step to play our role in the community and protect the long-term future of our game. The AFL plan is to play all remaining 144 games plus finals this year.”
The league’s focus in coming weeks would be to sort out medical protocols for players, to finalise the operating financial model for clubs during the suspension period, and to work to secure a line of credit to fund cash shortfalls across the football industry.
Asked about the decision to end the AFLW season without a conclusion, McLachlan said: “There’s no winners today. I think the decision was incredibly disappointing. The decision ended up being obvious today, but we would have loved to have finished [the season].”
McLachlan announced all AFL club training would be suspended while the league worked with them on the best way to manage players ahead of games being resumed.
“Over the next 48 hours, both the AFL and clubs will detail the drastic and immediate steps we need to be taken to cut costs,” he said.
“The AFL industry is facing its biggest financial crisis in our history. But our key priority is to do everything possible to keep players, staff and supporters healthy and well through this pandemic.”
Prior to the announcement, some of North Melbourne’s players kept their distance while celebrating goals against St Kilda at Docklands. (AAP: Scott Barbour)
An hour-and-a half prior to McLachlan’s announcement, Carlton beat the Brisbane Lions to qualify for what would have been the preliminary finals of the AFLW.
The Blues joined Fremantle, North Melbourne and GWS as the last four clubs remaining in the competition before the AFL executive’s decision ended their flag hopes.
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North Melbourne and St Kilda played at an empty Docklands stadium, with the Kangaroos winning by two points.
McLachlan’s announcement came at half-time in the second match of the day, between Hawthorn and Brisbane at the MCG.
The game went on minutes later, with the Hawks prevailing by 28 points.
The players from both clubs were told about the decision after the final siren.
“We’d love to keep going, [but] health and safety will come first,” Hawks forward Jack Gunston told Channel Seven after the match.
“[It’s] disappointing that footy will go away for players and fans. Hopefully we put a smile on everyone’s face.
“There are bigger things to worry about than AFL footy.”
West Coast’s match against Melbourne at Perth Stadium also went ahead, before the AFL suspension kicks in.
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