The AFL have set a target of October 31 to complete the 2020 premiership season, with league boss Gillon McLachlan increasingly confident long-term hubs won’t be required to achieve that goal.
McLachlan believes the pathway for stalled sporting codes laid out by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday has made a return to playing possible as early as late June.
A new pay deal struck with players allows the league to play games into December if required, but a June end to the COVID-19 shutdown could see a premier crowned in October.
“We have set that as a target,” McLachlan told Fox Footy on Saturday.
“We think we have the flexibility with venues to go longer.
“But given where we are, if you look ahead cautiously at when we might be able to get back to train, then into the season, we think finishing within an October framework is possible.
“I feel that every day that goes past I’ve got more confidence that we’re going to have a plan to get back on the field sooner rather than later.”
The league must work with each state on limits to gatherings that affect the ability of teams to train together and border restrictions before arriving at a model for the 17-round season.
“They’re the last two pieces and then we’ll be able to start rolling out things like fixtures and training dates and season start dates,” McLachlan said.
The recent relaxation of coronavirus measures in Western Australia allows groups of up to 10 players to train together at West Coast and Fremantle.
But citing equity concerns, the league has ruled no team can train together in groups of 10 until all 18 sides are able to.
Some players have baulked at the prospect of going into an isolation hub for up to 20 weeks, which has seen some stinging criticism levelled at the whole playing group.
McLachlan moved to allay fears that would be required in a teleconference with the 18 club captains on Friday and admitted the negative commentary around the worst-case hub scenario had been a misstep by head office.
“I think as an industry we’ve done OK with our communications … we had a bit of a glitch mid-week and I reckon we’re all back on track,” he said.
“I think we couldn’t be clearer now.
“The players, clubs and coaches understand that there are a series of options between flying in and flying out and being in high performance villages (hubs).
“We will work through this together … we just need a greater level of certainty before we can be clear about what things look like.
“I feel confident that we’ll have our players, our clubs, everyone, on board knowing what we need to do and that they’re capable of getting this done.”