AFL players are bracing for the prospect of playing matches in front of empty stadiums because of the global coronavirus outbreak.
The Victorian government this week warned that large gatherings will likely be impacted as measures are taken to stop the spread of the virus, while AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan has declared the league would be prepared to stage fixtures without fans.
Richmond premiership star Bachar Houli on Wednesday told reporters players had been given no further information about the likelihood of gates being closed, but had considered the prospect.
“You think about local football and you have a handful of people coming out and watching you,” Houli said.
“It will probably just test out the communication skills and see who’s very vocal on-field.
“Normally we’ve just got hand signals and pretending we’re talking and communicating. That’ll be a massive test.”
“No real timeline on it, we’ll let it play out…” – Dyson Heppell.
The captains speak on injuries, coronavirus, a Tiger trade target and more.
— AFL.com.au (@AFLcomau) March 10, 2020
Houli’s Tigers are set to feature against Carlton on March 19 in the traditional season opener, which has drawn more than 85,000 fans in each of the past two seasons.
“Our game is special for attendances and us drawing big crowds, especially the Tiger Army, so we trust the AFL will make the right decisions,” Houli said.
“So for us we’ll go out and play our system, play our way and go after the four points.”
Western Bulldogs wingman Lin Jong admitted it would be “very strange” to play in front of bare stands.
“If it does turn out that way then obviously safety comes first,” Jong said.
“But we play for our clubs and we play for our teams and at the end of the day we get paid to play and that’s what we’ll do.
“If they get the heads up that there’s no fans allowed in the games, I think the games will still go ahead.”
Jong is currently sidelined with a hamstring tendon injury, but has resumed low-intensity running and hopes to return to action in the first half of the season.
Both Jong and Houli were on Wednesday announced as ambassadors for the AFL’s reinvigorated multicultural program in 2020.