The AFL is increasingly hopeful of restarting the season in July, but Players Association chief Paul Marsh still has serious reservations about the proposed quarantine hubs.
League boss Gillon McLachlan says the league is working hard to allay those fears and has told reporters he will announce a way forward by the end of April.
The hub plan, which would have teams separated into three groups and isolated in different states to limit their exposure to COVID-19, is one of the scenarios the league is considering to restart the suspended season.
The concept has sparked much debate. Senior coaches have largely embraced the idea, while AFLPA president Patrick Dangerfield has voiced his concerns.
Greater Western Sydney chairman Tony Shepherd has labelled hubs as potential cruise ships in the making.
Marsh is yet to see a firm hub proposal from the AFL, but he shares Shepherd’s concerns.
“Having a whole lot of people together there is obviously a risk of if someone gets it, they all get it,” Marsh told SEN SA on Thursday.
“So how can we be certain that anyone that is interacting with players within the hubs, how can we be certain that no one in there has got it and is therefore passing it on?
“Then you start to see where potential interaction might come from –whether that be bus drivers or people serving food or media covering it … all of that stuff needs to be thought through.
“And I’m sure the AFL will be thinking through all of this and we’ll get a proposal that deals with it.”
Marsh said in initial discussions with the league about hubs he had pushed for players to be given the option of taking their families with them into isolation.
In a press conference later on Thursday, McLachlan asked for patience as the AFL worked out the best way forward.
“I think it’s challenging when players don’t have a level of information,” McLachlan said.
At the moment we’re working through what’s possible and there’s lots of different scenarios.
“We’re aware of players’ mental health and part of that is having access to families and that connection with communities.
“We’ll have to continue to work with all the stakeholders to get their buy in. I understand the reservations of some in the absence of information.”
McLachlan said the AFL will have a return-to-play plan ready to put to clubs by the end of April, with growing confidence in the industry that games might resume in July.
The AFL boss also forecast changes to this year’s draft, but said the prospect of lifting the minimum draft age is still a work in progress.
Premiership coaches Damien Hardwick and Luke Beveridge have this week thrown their voices behind fresh calls to raise the draft age, citing benefits for young players and AFL clubs.
But critics of that plan have suggested the existing rules – which stipulate players must be at least 18 on December 31 in the year they are drafted to be eligible for selection – work just fine.
“The draft age is being discussed by working groups,” McLachlan said on Thursday.
“I know there are various views on all of that, but one thing I’ve heard in the last 24 hours from various people around football … is that the best 18-year-old kids are walking straight into very good teams and having an impact straight away.
“People are looking for the whole draft class to be more mature, but they certainly don’t want to have less access to the best 18-year-olds.”
McLachlan dismissed suggestions the draft would not go ahead at all in 2020.
“I’m very confident that the draft will go ahead,” he said.
“Clearly there’s a possibility that it will be in a different form in the way that it’s broadcast and the way it’s done, just because of the environment. But we will need a draft.”
Meanwhile, the Sydney Swans have put plans for a $70 million headquarters on hold because of the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
The Swans had planned to share a redeveloped Royal Hall of Industries building at Moore Park – next to the Sydney Cricket Ground – with netball’s NSW Swifts.
But the centre of excellence plan will not come to fruition any time soon, with the Swans pulling out of a deal with the NSW government and Centennial Park and Moore Park Trust.