News Coronavirus Forget the solo training drills, post-coronavirus sport is a goer
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Forget the solo training drills, post-coronavirus sport is a goer

Who's up for sport? Melbourne Storm players training in Albury ahead of the NRL restart on May 28. Photo: AAP
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Warm up the vocal cords sports fans, your favourite team is now free to train and so are you – from the couch – as officials start to articulate what their competitions will look like post-coronavirus.

As state governments start to relax their restrictions around group sessions, the road ahead has become clearer for the AFL and NRL – the latter parlaying its PR and financial disasters into an extended broadcast deal and a playbook for restarting all sport across the country.

The NRL’s new deal may be something of a Pyrrhic victory, but at least it shores up the future of all clubs in an uncertain time.

Having been caught out by the need for shutdowns, ARL Commission chairman Peter V’Landys hopes to bank a $2.3 billion broadcast deal over seven years with Nine and Foxtel – effectively discounting the rights for stability sake until 2026.

AAP reported the revamped contract would cover the remaining three years of the NRL’s existing deal, which is $1.8 billion for 2018-2022, plus a four-season extension until the end of 2026.

V’Landys’ dealmaking was key to ensuring a quick resumption of sport.

His bold statement that the NRL would aim to return on May 28 appeared to be the key moment when the minds of lawmakers turned backed to the sporting economy.

Former NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and ARLC chairman Peter V’landys when the COVID-19 crisis first hit.

Now, the fans have been invited to get ready to cheer again – albeit from the comfort of their homes.

The AFL is moving this week to finalise its plans – keen to be seen to be balancing the health risks with the need to get the show back on the road.

The AFL Commission met on Monday and plans are being workshopped in hookups with clubs around the country.

The stated aim of a roadmap by May 11 came and went on Monday without an announcement.

While Australian Rules has had the benefit of sitting back and watching a desperate NRL make the running for a resumption, its asset and cash reserves sees it resumes in a better financial position going forward.

It’s now thought the AFL will make its plans known by Thursday, with plans for Round 2 of the season to begin by mid-June.

The Victorian government had been a holdout on restrictions, but on Monday its move to exempt professional clubs from group training bans provided a key piece of the puzzle.

The AFL has not been keen to allow training until clubs from all states could participate.

The Victorian government move was also a boon for Melbourne’s NRL team. Storm now plans to return to its AAMI Park base on Thursday having previously relocated across the NSW border to Albury.

All professional teams based in Victoria can train as full squads and resume contact training from Wednesday.

“If they’re using a training facility, an indoor gym for instance, or an outdoor area, it must be exclusively for them,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.

It’s been a very positive partnership, not just with footy (AFL) but with rugby league and other codes, and I’m confident that they understand that there are risks and they need to do everything they can to mitigate those.’’

The Victorian climbdown allowed NRL team Melbourne Storm to plan a return from its Albury training base, with training to resume in Melbourne on Thursday.

No such luck for Gold Coast players Bryce Cartwright and Brian Kelly who have been were stood down for refusing to receive a flu shot.

The Titans are hoping the Queensland government will accept the NRL’s biosecurity guidelines that allow players to sign a waiver to refuse the vaccination, but for now state authorities are sticking to the ‘no jab, no play’ policy.

The easing of restrictions also came a week too late for the AFL’s Adelaide Crows, with 16 players copping a suspended one-match sanction and assistant coach Ben Hart stood down until June 22 after their violated training regulations last week.

The Crows players, along with some of West Coast’s squad, are in mandatory quarantine after travel, meaning it will be at least another week before they can train again.

Through all the intrigue, soccer’s A-League competition remains in limbo, despite it having only five rounds plus finals to go to finish its 2019-2020 season.

Its situation has been complicated by requiring the participation of the New Zealand team Wellington Phoenix, although league bosses are thought to be working on a plan to bring the team to Sydney, where all remaining games would be played.

a-league
The A-League would be played behind closed doors. Photo: AAP 

The most likely scenario for the A-League appears to be an August restart, with Nine media also reporting that the competition is also in delicate negotiations with Fox Sports about its broadcast deal going forward. That near-$60 million-a-year deal has three seasons to run.

Rugby Australia is organising a new Super Rugby competition starting  in early July.

RA has released a return-to-play strategy with the aim of starting a five or six team 12-week competition, with Western Force and possibly Japan’s Sunwolves joining the four Australian Super Rugby teams.

Of all sports, cricket appeared to dodge the worst of the coronavirus shutdowns, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to keep restrictions on professional sport means Australia’s white-ball tour of England is looking increasingly unlikely to proceed.

Australia was due to play three T20s and a trio of ODIs from July 3 to 16, with AAP reporting that the games could be swapped to early September in place of England’s limited-overs series against Ireland.

And with international tennis likely be one of the last sports to resume due to travel restrictions, Australia’s French Open champion Ash Barty has said she will put her faith in the governing body to make the call about a return.

“I’m keen to get back on the court, but health always comes first,” the French Open singles champion told AAP.

“This is a tough time for so many people in the world. There are more important things than tennis right now.

Ash Barty and the spoils of victory in Paris last year. Photo: Getty 

“It’s a unique situation so it’s tough to compare it to anything. All I can do is keep my fitness up, keep hitting and stay positive.

I feel fortunate to be in Australia where the restrictions are easing a little and we are able to train again.’’

The clay court tournament at Roland Garros was initially scheduled to be held from May 24 to June 7, but was postponed until September 20 to October 4 and it may be delayed even further.

“It’s a unique situation so it’s tough to compare it to anything. All I can do is keep my fitness up, keep hitting and stay positive,” Barty said.

-with AAP