The AFL will find a way to manage through an unprecedented 17-round coronavirus-affected season, league boss Gillon McLachlan says.
The 2020 competition will start on schedule this Thursday night with reigning premiers Richmond to host Carlton at the MCG, with McLachlan declaring the season “will not look like any other”.
The decision to push ahead in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic came after a marathon AFL Commission meeting followed by a teleconference with all 18 club chief executives on Wednesday.
“I do know today I feel comfortable with the government and medical advice, and the support of our presidents, CEOs, players and coaches,” McLachlan told reporters.
“Our industry is unified in making a decision to start.
“We start tomorrow night, confident after discussions with the chief medical officer that our players are well placed to bear the proportionate risk of playing a contact sport.”
The first four of a scheduled 17 rounds, down from the usual 23, will be crammed into a quicker time frame if possible.
The competition will be immediately postponed immediately if and when any player or official tests positive to coronavirus.
The AFLW season will also go ahead this weekend, although the last two home and away rounds have been ditched, with the finals to commence straight away.
Some 88 per cent of AFL players voted on Monday night in favour of starting the season this week despite the outbreak of COVID-19, which has prompted sporting leagues around the world to shut down.
“The reality is that this season will not look like any other,” McLauchlan said.
“As I said earlier in the week this is an unprecedented challenge and it is going to take unprecedented action to get through it all
“We’ve taken action in both the men’s and women’s seasons.
“The 153 games will not look like a standard 17-round season.
“But footy is resilient and footy will find a way through.”
Earlier in the day, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick said the Tigers were ready and willing to kick off their premiership defence against the Blues.
Carlton counterpart David Teague said his players were desperate to battle the Tigers and would just listen to the advice of experts.
All round-one games will be played behind closed doors with shortened 16-and-a-half minute quarters plus time-on.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a range of new measures on Wednesday morning, including a ban on all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
But the prime minister made it clear that it was up the AFL and NRL to determine whether or not to postpone their seasons.
The government’s measures could last up to six months, or more, meaning the entire season could be played without spectators.