The AFL has been plunged into the fight of its life after drastic new coronavirus measures put in place by federal and state governments prompted the shutdown of the 2020 premiership season.
Chief executive Gillon McLachlan declared AFL must play its role in protecting the community as he announced the extreme action on Sunday, suspending the men’s competition after just one round until at least May 31 and abandoning the AFLW finals series with no premier to be named.
The move came after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for people to cancel all non-essential travel within Australia as the nation battles the spread of the deadly virus.
The premiers of Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia also announced new restrictions on Sunday, with Victoria and NSW to shut down non-essential services while any visitors to SA and WA will be subjected to a 14-day self-isolation period.
“The AFL industry is facing its biggest financial crisis in our history, but our key priority is to do everything possible to keep players, staff and supporters healthy and well through this pandemic,” McLachlan said.
“To say that this is the most serious threat to our game in 100 years is an understatement.
“It is unprecedented in its impact.
“It is unprecedented in the impact it is having on our game and our wider community.
“And as a community and as a code, we all need to take the unprecedented and required actions to get through this together.”
The league will revisit the suspension at the end of April before deciding if it will be able to resume after May 31.
The AFL has copped plenty of criticism for forging ahead with its season in the face of the growing COVID-19 crisis.
But McLachlan had no regrets.
“We were given advice by the government and the chief medical officers that it was right to start the season,” he said.
“But that advice also included that our season would be paused at some stage.
“It was the right decision to start the season and today it is clearly now the right decision to stop.
“That is why we’ve acted immediately to take this step to play our role in the community and protect the long-term future of our game.”
McLachlan will speak to clubs in the coming days as they confront their scary new reality.
Players will not be allowed to train together at their clubs during the break, with the league to put in place strict guidelines to ensure their health and safety.
Another key focus for McLachlan is ensuring they have something to come back to.
He will work with the AFL’s corporate partners to secure necessary financial backing to ensure all 18 clubs rejoin the fight for the 2020 premiership flag.
“The AFL plan is to play all remaining 144 games (16 rounds) plus finals this year,” he said.
“The competition will need to be agile and flexible on when those games are scheduled and when play returns.
“We are prepared to run as late as possible in 2020 to complete the season if it is required.”