Last week, the AFL spent long days, and nights, meeting to discuss whether the 2020 season should go ahead. The game’s chief executive, Gillon McLachlan, eventually gave the green light after extensive discussions that included putting in place protocols dealing with COVID-19. Even federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy gave their blessings.
And yet within a minute of the first bounce of the first clash of the season between Carlton and Richmond, things went awry. After the Tigers’ two-time premiership player Shane Edwards kicked the first goal of the year, his teammates immediately crowded round to congratulate him with hugs and high fives. A runner offered him a shared drink bottle, from which he took a swig.
Things did not get any better from there. After the final siren, handshaking, high fives and general close contact was the order of the day within and between the teams. Was an empty stadium not enough of an indication that the times had changed, not just for the crowds but for the players?
It took less than 24 hours for the AFL, which prides itself on taking a leadership role in the community, to release new protocols, but the damage had been done.