by ALEC SMART
On Tues 24 March, the A-League soccer followed the NRL, which followed the AFL, and suspended the 2020 football season in response to the coronavirus outbreak and efforts to curb its spread. Football Federation Australia (FFA) boss James Johnson said “This is a unanimous decision of the FFA board, but it is also the unanimous decision of the A- League clubs.”
All football codes played in Australia are now on hiatus until June at the earliest, although the FFA will reassess their situation on 22 April. The first games of the season were played and televised in empty, silent stadiums, crowds forbidden from entering.
On 22 March, the Australian Football League (AFL) CEO Gillon McLachlan announced the suspension of the Aussie Rules’ 2020 season matches until at least May 31 to comply with new coronavirus restrictions. However, if the current restrictions on travel and association are lifted, McLachlan said “The AFL plan is to play all remaining 144 games plus finals this year.”
The women’s AFL season was cancelled outright, despite its expansion from 10 to 14 teams competing in the league this year, just four less than the national men’s game.
The following day the National Rugby League (NRL) called a halt on their season following advice from medical experts. “Our pandemic and biosecurity experts said due to the outbreak it is no longer safe for our players to play,” Australian Rugby League chairman Peter V’landys said.
The NRL was one of the last professional sporting leagues in the world still active despite the cancellation of rugby league at every other level across Australia, including the NSW Rugby League and Queensland Rugby League.
Plans were afoot to allow the Auckland team New Zealand Warriors to utilise reserve players from other clubs so they could remain active in the Australian competition. This was a means to avoid travel bans in place between New Zealand and Australia because only 24 of their players were on this side of the Tasman Sea. This meant they had only 11 players in excess of their main competitive squad of 13, but five of these were ‘in development’.
The NRL and its 16 teams considered relocating to central Queensland to continue the 2020 competition in a single isolated location. V’landys confirmed the NRL explored the option of housing more than 500 players and coaching staff in a 1392-room purpose-built village at Calliope, near Gladstone.