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AFL to press forward with 2020 season

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan speaks to the media during an press conference at AFL House on March 18 (by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Aussie rules football league the AFL has today (Wednesday) committed to commencing its 2020 season as scheduled on Thursday, with chief executive Gillon McLachlan stating that the game “can’t stand still”.

The AFL stance concerning Covid-19 is at odds with many other sports leagues and organisations.

Speaking at a press conference, McLachlan conceded that the AFL faces an “unprecedented challenge” but said the league’s commission came to its decision after “wide consultation” with the football industry, Australia’s chief medical officer and government representatives.

This means the traditional season-opener between Richmond and Carlton will go ahead at the MCG in Melbourne tomorrow, albeit behind closed doors following the AFL’s decision to ban spectators on advice from the government.

Matches in the women’s AFLW league will also continue this weekend, but the final two weeks of the regular season will be shelved in favour of moving straight into the finals.

The AFL had already planned to cut its season from 22 to 17 rounds, and the League’s official website today reported that games will be shortened to 16 minutes (plus added time) in order to allow more games to be moved into a smaller window at the start of the season.

The AFL chief said: “We also embark on this journey with clear instruction from the government that all industry and all parts of society need to keep moving forward and we simply cannot stand still. We must go forward day by day listening to the advice and continue to make the best decisions for our industry while balancing well-being, welfare, leadership, and economic and social impacts.

“We don’t know how many games we will get into this 153-game journey before we have to pause. But what I do know today is I feel comfortable with the government and medical advice, and the support of our presidents, CEOs, players and coaches.”

Earlier today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison lowered the limit for mass gatherings allowed at non-essential indoor events to 100, with the limit for events deemed to be outdoor gatherings remaining at 500 people. However, Morrison left it up to individual organisations to decide how they would fall in-line with such rules, with the AFL said to have been seeking a government directive for either an exclusion provision to play matches, or an ordered ban.

McLachlan said the AFL is still looking to bring forward more games into the opening section of the season, but added the first four rounds of games will remain in place. He also defended the stance of the League when compared to other sports codes in Australia and major organisations overseas.

He added: “I think the distinction is that it’s entirely consistent with the policy and position of our government, both state and federal, and it’s consistent with what the chief medical officer told us today that his strategy for dealing with this crisis is that industry goes forward. That we can’t stand still, and that was incredibly compelling for the Commission to hear that this morning.

“The Prime Minister said this morning that we can’t lock ourselves in our house. If that was the view, that we’re going into lockdown and that was the best way forward, then we would have followed that. But that wasn’t the advice.”