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Player and executive pay cuts considered as Australian sport grapples with coronavirus

Harriet Cordner of the Demons and Danielle Ponter of the Crows in action during the 2019 AFLW match between the Melbourne Demons and Adelaide Crows (by Michael Willson/AFL Media)

Players in Australia’s National Rugby League and Australian Football League competitions have been warned they face pay cuts due to suspended play under the coronavirus outbreak.

Postponements and other restrictions are hitting sport across Australia. The start of upcoming AFL season tomorrow is under question. The league has already planned to cut its season from 23 to 17 rounds, and said it would make a call today on the date of the season start. The NRL has not yet postponed games but has begun playing behind closed doors.

Australian media outlets have reported that a 20-per-cent player pay cut is under consideration by the AFL. The Herald Sun newspaper reported that AFL executives are themselves considering pay cuts.

Rugby league’s players’ union has informed its members that they face pay cuts if the NRL season is cut short. The Brisbane Times reported that the pay deal between the players and the league contains a force majeure clause that requires the parties to renegotiate terms if league revenues decrease by A$10m ($6m) in any year of the deal.

Rugby League Players’ Association general manager of stakeholder relations Clint Newton was reported to have said in a video message to players that salaries “would be the last thing we look to reduce”. He said certain pools of money could be drawn on to prop up salaries, and the stakeholders could also consider staggering pay reductions over the coming years.

“If the reduction in the revenues are significant, the players will need to share in that,” he said. “But it’s important to remember that it’s only our portion of that percentage – clubs, states and NRL will also share in any losses.

“Any reduction in player payments will be spread across all players – it won’t be absorbed by any one team or any one group of players. It’s important that we stick together on this.

“It’s important to know, after all that, that we are not there at this point. These are simply all considerations we will work through if or when the game may be suspended or paused.”

The Brisbane Times also reported that the NRL is considering basing all 16 teams, and many games, in one town in Queensland in a bid to minimise the risk of infection and continue the season.

The NRL is in a precarious financial situation, despite reporting profits in recent years, and there are fears over the consequences of the epidemic.

Australian Rugby League Commission chairman Peter V’Landys raised eyebrows at the weekend by demanding government assistance for the sport. “The government has to assist us in this crisis because it is not of our doing. The game, as we know it, is in jeopardy,” he said. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded: “The NRL is not high on the list at the moment.”

Restrictions bite

All cricket in Australia has been cancelled by governing body Cricket Australia. New South Wales was declared the champion of the curtailed domestic season. A three-game one day international series between Australia and New Zealand was called off after one game was played behind closed doors. CA said, however, that it currently plans to go ahead with the men’s Twenty20 World Cup as scheduled in October. The tournament is to begin on October 18 and run to November 15.

Rugby Australia has postponed lower-league games and training until the start of May. The Super League – the multi-territory league that is effectively Australia’s top club competition – has already been halted by organiser Sanzaar. RA’s headquarters were closed on Monday for cleaning after two members of staff showed coronavirus symptoms.

Football’s A-League plans to finish the remaining six weeks of its season behind closed doors. The grand final of the women’s W-League will also take place behind closed doors. Grassroots football has been cancelled until at least April 14.

Netball Australia has established a working group to assess the impact on the sport, including the Super Netball league, which is due to start in May. The pre-season Team Girls Cup has been cancelled.

The remaining two rounds of the AFLW women’s league are planned to be played behind closed doors, although an alternative, shortened structure for the end of the season is also under consideration.

The final two games of the National Basketball League have been called off. The league is yet to confirm if a championship winner will be declared.

The Supercars motorsport series has been postoned until June.

In neighbouring New Zealand, sport is being similarly restricted. The last two rounds of the country’s top first-class cricket competition, the Plunket Shield, have been cancelled and the championship awarded to Wellington Firebirds. New Zealand Cricket also postponed its annual awards on March 30.