Sport AFL season halted until May 31, NRL pushes on
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AFL season halted until May 31, NRL pushes on

Down and out: Luke Breust of the Hawks is tackled by Lachie Neale of the Brisbane Lions at the MCG. Photo: AAP
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Australian sport has failed to outpace the latest coronavirus travel restrictions, with the AFL shutting down after Sunday night’s West Coast versus Melbourne clash.

The AFL, NRL and A-League have continued to play this past week, without crowds, but the new travel bans put in place by governments made it impossible for Australian Rules to continue.

The A-League looks to be going ahead at this stage, while Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’landys told The Daily Telegraph  that the NRL will play on unless they are forced to shut by government.

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan says his code is now facing the biggest financial challenge in its history.

He said clubs would not train and the league would not resume until May 31, at the earliest, with no premiership awarded in the AFLW – with Fremantle particularly devastated after a strong season.

“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,” said. McLachlan.

All competitions faced an uphill battle to stay onfield after the federal government announced new travel bans and some state government’s moved to shut borders.

“All AFL club training will be suspended while we work with the clubs on the best way to manage players ahead of games being resumed,” McLachlan said, adding there would be no training at clubs.

“The 31 May, 2020 resumption time for the season will be reviewed and depending on the medical advice and government regulations in place at the time the date could be extended out.

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. 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.

“Our industry provides livelihoods for thousands and thousands of people. But our key focus at the moment, like every organisation in the country, is to do everything that needs to be done to slow the spread of this virus.

Earlier, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked specifically about the continuation of AFL and NRL seasons, and pledged to work with the codes on new health and safety arrangements that might need to be put in place.

But after South Australian Premier Steven Marshall announced that any visitors to his state would be subjected to a 14-day self-isolation period.

That restriction comes into force on Tuesday, meaning teams travelling to play Adelaide or Port Adelaide would face insurmountable difficulties.

The continuing intrigue over the football codes came after Cricket Australia moved early to shut down its ODI series, the domestic basketball season was wound up early and the Australian Grand Prix was called off.

Matches played without crowds lacked atmosphere, but the bigger issue was whether the seasons should even have started with the ongoing health crisis.

McLachlan said the AFL had started its season with all the proper medical and governmental advice, but said the situation has changed quickly.

“I think it’s become very real in the last couple of hours. It’s going to be a very real few days as people, me and Chief Executive and presidents have got to have honest conversations with staff and with people, because this is a very human part of the business.

“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. We’ve got to stay united and work through it as a community in whatever industry you’ve in.”

The AFL Players Association said it supported the AFL’s decision.

“We remain optimistic that the 2020 AFL season will recommence at the right time, but, for now, we believe today’s decision is the right one for players, staff, clubs and the community,” said AFLPA chief Paul Marsh.

“We encourage the community to heed the advice of the government and to show support, care and kindness to each other as we navigate through this unprecedented situation.”

Sunday’s developments come after it emerged on Saturday that a Collingwood employee had tested positive for COVID-19.

The AFL had announced the premiership season would continue as the unnamed male employee has been in isolation since returning from his overseas trip.

Australian domestic sport had bucked the trend in world sport in continuing on during the crisis, although the International Olympic Committee is still pushing on with plans for the Tokyo 2020 Games.

-with AAP