The A-League looks set to be played out almost entirely in Sydney and Melbourne in a condensed format, as sporting codes across Australia grapple with the coronavirus outbreak.
Football Federation Australia yesterday advised that all sanctioned grassroots football activity in Australia will be suspended until April 14.
After careful consideration and having regard to the feedback received from the grassroots community, @FFA advises that effective from 12:00am on 18 March 2020, all sanctioned grassroots football activity in Australia will be suspended until 14 April 2020. https://t.co/AqRmBzmsUv
— Football Federation Australia (@FFA) March 17, 2020
However, the A-League, with its financial commitments to rights broadcasters, is still looking to complete the season.
Wellington Phoenix general manager David Dome gave an insight into the overhauled nature of the league caused by the need to isolate teams and reduce travel because of coronavirus.
Dome revealed Australia’s two biggest cities will be hubs for the remainder of the regular season, which will be completed by mid-April at empty stadiums.
The finals format is still be confirmed but is likely to remain on the east coast of Australia.
Dome let slip the fundamental change hours before the Phoenix players and staff were scheduled to fly to Sydney on Wednesday, where they will undergo two weeks of mandatory isolation.
Under the draw he’s seen, which is not yet confirmed, five of Wellington’s six subsequent regular season games will be in Sydney, with the exception being a drive to Newcastle to face the Jets.
The Sydney venues are still to be confirmed.
“It’s not my place to release the draw but there are certain plans in place to have the A-League based out of two hubs, being Melbourne and Sydney,” Dome said.
Once out of quarantine, Wellington will play their first game three days later, on April 4, squeezing their six games into less than three weeks.
Despite the strain placed on his players by the schedule, Dome said Wellington had given a cautious nod to A-League bosses.
“We are relatively comfortable with that, given the circumstances,” he said.
“Under normal circumstances that would not be an acceptable solution but all the clubs realise that we have to complete the season as soon as possible.”
Dome believed locating to two cities made sense as it reduced the travel component considerably, aiding safety measures and helping players recover from the taxing schedule.
He said all clubs were undergoing their own form of isolation to give the league the best chance of being completed, as it would be severely compromised if any player contracted COVID-19.
“It’s almost like every club has gone into an isolation window within the club itself,” he said.
Wellington’s confirmation of their travel came as a relief to FFA chief executive James Johnson after the club had raised concerns on Tuesday and delayed their arrival.
Phoenix bosses only agreed to go ahead with the plan after being given assurances their players would be able to train together during their quarantine period.
Johnson said his organisation is prepared to do what it can to ensure both Phoenix and Melbourne Victory players – who are also in isolation after playing in Wellington on Sunday – can maintain their focus and condition before returning to action.
“Knowing they’ve got to come out of that 14 day period and play a football match, it is very challenging for them,” he said.
“So yes, we’re relieved but on the other hand we’re really just trying to help them both mentally and also physically and we’re also working very closely with the PFA to do this.”