Sport AFL AFL to juggle season restart with an initial four-week plan

AFL to juggle season restart with an initial four-week plan

Those with symptoms are being asked to get tested. Photo: AAP Photo: AAP
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The AFL will on Friday announce the format for resuming its disrupted season – up to a point.

The league has spent this past week juggling its way to a resumption of the competition, with a flurry of national phone hooks ups trying to make sense of the different state regulations and a need to protect player welfare.

The AFL played one round of the 2020 season before stopping in mid-March.

Chief executive Gillon McLachlan is not expected to announce a full fixture for the rest of the 2020 season, but will instead detail a return-to-training schedule as well as four weeks of matches from June 11.

There will be a normal six- or seven-day break between games.

The goal is to get the season under way, but provide maximum opportunity for players to recover and perform at their best.

It’s believed league chiefs are aiming for a Collingwood-Richmond opener at the MCG in mid-June.

The New Daily understands there will be 10 teams based in Victoria.

There’ll also be six clubs based in Queensland – Brisbane Lions, Gold Coast Suns and the two Western Australian [West Coast and Fremantle] and South Australian teams [Adelaide and Port Adelaide] that are not able to travel due to quarantine restrictions in their home states.

Sydney and Greater Western Sydney will remain based in New South Wales.

Melbourne-based AFL players were tested for coronavirus en masse at a drive-through session at Marvel Stadium on Thursday.

Players and key AFL staff were told to arrive between 8.30am and 10.30am to ensure they were free of the virus and able to join the hubs.

The league had been expected to announce on Monday how it would proceed, but quarantine restrictions maintained by the South Australian government upended the plans.

Adelaide and Port Adelaide will be forced to relocate unless their state government makes a last-minute exception to training and quarantine regulations.

At a distance: Brisbane’s Mitch Robinson will enjoy a home ‘hub’. Photo: Getty

Western Australia has granted West Coast and Fremantle training approval, but not travel exemptions meaning those clubs are also expected to relocate to Queensland to ensure the season can proceed.

Port Adelaide’s head of football Chris Davies told the ABC his club could fly interstate as soon as next week if the training exemption was refused.

“Right now, obviously we’re working with both the AFL and the government in the hope that we can get some of the training requirements organised such that we don’t have to move in the short term,” Davies told reporters on Thursday.

The league plans are not without complexity, with some players reluctant to relocate because of family commitments.

By not issuing a full fixture in his announcement on Friday, McLachlan is aiming to give the league the ability to adapt to any changes in the virus outlook and also the way governments respond to it.

If the first four weeks of matches go without a hitch, the season could evolve to include matches played every four to five games, with teams playing multiple matches in the one city in quick succession.

The AFL has been cautious in aiming for its restart, unlike the cash-strapped NRL that named May 28 as its start date and pushed hard to get back on the field as a matter of urgency.

AFL chiefs have also been keen to ensure that no club got an unfair advantage by being able to train earlier than others simply because it was in a different state jurisdiction.

That work was almost brought undone by the Crows, with 16 of its players found to have engaged in unauthorised training drills in the Barossa Valley.

Port Adelaide’s Davies said the Crows’ breach had appeared to have had an impact on the state government’s decisions to not relax training protocols.

The players and assistant coach Ben Hart were quarantined for 14 days, under SA protocols, at a golf resort after returning from interstate.

The AFL gave the players a suspended one-game sanction and stood down Hart from coaching for six weeks.

“I don’t think that even the staunchest Crows supporter would believe that it has had a positive impact,” Davies said.

“Confidence in the way that the industry goes about things is vitally important.”

North Melbourne and Hawthorn’s hopes of hosting games in Tasmania this year faded with Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein saying his state would not be able to “accommodate” AFL football under its current border restrictions.