AFL players are bracing for the very real possibility of the 2020 season being postponed amid growing concern over the coronavirus outbreak.
Players’ Association officials have been in regular contact with AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan over the past few days as the league attempts to navigate its way through the crisis.
Clubs, government and health organisations have also been involved in the talks.
In line with professional sporting competitions around the world, the AFL is considering a range of contingency plans, including playing matches behind closed doors.
PA president Patrick Dangerfield told reporters on Thursday he believed the Richmond-Carlton season opener would go ahead as planned on March 19.
But he has also considered the prospect of the season being put on hold.
“For us at the moment it’s purely speculation but if that’s what has to happen because that’s the best thing for the health of our nation, our fans and the game, then that’s what has to happen because that’s the most important thing,” Dangerfield said.
“It’s quite unforeseen what we’re experiencing currently and we’re still preparing as we usually would, but obviously there are provisos in place now that we’re unsure on where it might head.”
Dangerfield said the PA had closely monitored similar situations overseas, where professional sport in Europe has been affected and the NBA has been put on hold.
“We’ll still, as players and as clubs, plan for what was always going to happen in round one,” Dangerfield said.
“I still think that happens.
“Whether there’s an adjustment, who knows, but it’s difficult to ascertain what the future holds.”
Dangerfield was speaking at the PA season launch in Melbourne, with only a handful of current players in attendance – fewer than in recent years.
He said the playing fraternity was “absolutely” still keen to start the season despite great uncertainty.
“We want to play in front of the fans that mean so much to us,” Dangerfield said.
“But at the same time we’ve got to make sure that first and foremost the health of our players is at the front of our minds as a PA, and at the same time the general public.
“We want to make sure that any decision is made with the best interests in regards to health.”
Six clubs are scheduled to travel interstate in round one and PA chief executive Paul Marsh said the organisation was involved in discussions with the AFL about potentially chartering private planes.
They could be required to avoid exposure to the coronavirus and ensure matches go ahead.
“That is something we need to resolve in the next few days,” Marsh said.