When the Hawks walked off the MCG, they were told it was their last official football for more than two months. (AAP: Michael Dodge)
We knew it was a possibility, but now it’s a reality — the coronavirus outbreak has forced a second football code in Australia to call a halt to its season, for the moment at least.
What has happened?
AFL chief executive officer Gillon McLachlan held a press conference on Sunday, with live matches taking place, to announce:
- The entire AFL competition is being suspended, effective at the end of round one;
- That suspension will last until May 31;
- Player training at each club will also be suspended;
- The AFLW season is over and no premier will be named for this season.
McLachlan insists it was the right decision to begin the season in front of empty stadiums. And he says the decision to pause now is also the right one.
“The AFL industry is facing its biggest financial crisis in our history,” he 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.”
Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak
Wait … why not name an AFLW premier?
The Dockers are the only undefeated team in the AFLW — but the season’s cancellation ends their hopes of a flag. (AAP: Richard Wainwright)
The AFLW has two conferences, so there is no single minor premier to nominate as the best team throughout the home and away season.
The season ends with four teams — Fremantle, North Melbourne, Melbourne and Carlton — having qualified for preliminary finals which will no longer be played.
McLachlan said the league considered trying to come up with a way to name a premier based on finals rankings, but it was too “contrived”.
“There is not a winner because we have been stood down by something much bigger,” he said.
How have the clubs reacted?
McLachlan says clubs are “shocked” by the decision to pause the season.
“Things have become very real the last couple of hours,” he said.
He says the league’s clubs will be talking to staff over the coming days to assess the impact of the temporary closure of the season.
“This virus is taking an incredibly personal toll physically on many people and will continue to do so. But the economic costs and the livelihood cost is significant as well,” he said.
Will the whole AFL be season be cancelled?
Coronavirus concerns changed goal celebrations in round one — but now the whole season could be up in the air. (AAP: Scott Barbour)
At this stage, McLachlan says no.
The season had already been shortened to only 17 rounds, but McLachlan says the current plan is to return to finish off the remaining 16 rounds plus finals later in the year.
He says the league is prepared to run “as late as possible in 2020” to make it to a grand final and name a premier.
An alternate draw will be worked on during the suspension.
What happens from here?
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
There will be a review of the suspension at the end of April.
Depending on how the pandemic has unfolded between now and then, that could kickstart plans for the resumption of the competition at some point after May 31.
But when asked if the 2020 season could be over, McLachlan said he couldn’t be sure.
“I don’t know when it gets better. We all hope it’s not six weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks. I don’t know,” he said.