Over the last few weeks, play in the AFL hasn’t been brilliant in all games. Generally speaking, skills have been quite average, games have been low-scoring, and tactics have been focused around boring, conservative play.
But at least AFL fans have had games to barrack around, debate about, and even talk trash to mates who support rival clubs.
Quite a relief for not having any footy for the previous few months due to precautions taken around the COVID-19 pandemic, and just being able to watch AFL games again has given fans a sense of normalcy – albeit for a few hours at a time here and there.
However, the way that the COVID-19 cases have had a recent spike in Victoria – where ten of the AFL’s 18 teams hail from – places that perceived return to normalcy through life’s escape of sport into great danger.
A general peek at the “Manhattans” of daily coronavirus cases on the ABC’s nightly 7pm Melbourne news bulletin shows the last several days of double-digit reported cases in the state of Victoria. Most of the time, those numbers have risen from one day to the next, and this is after weeks and months of single-digit cases occurring.
Victorians had been beating their collective chests to be the toast of the nation, if not the world, on how to deal with this global pandemic. Ever hear of premature celebrations? If there was ever a grand example of this, here we have it.
Evidence in this current climate, in the context of the AFL’s rebooted season, can lead to only one recommended conclusion: if its CEO, Gillon McLaughlin, had the courage to call the season off, very few would blame him for doing so, either out of circumstance or out of sheer frustration.
And evidence points to why he should. The way things are going in Victoria around COVID-19 cases and the pandemic in general, McLaughlin would have a lot of luck to ride to maintain a season which at the moment is quite viable.
Outside of the state’s borders, and AFL headquarters, it seems like a different level of emergency altogether.
On Tuesday, the Queensland government announced that it would shut down their borders to anyone who has visited the state of Victoria in the last 14 days, or else face a quarantine for the same interval of time. New South Wales and South Australia, as states neighbouring Victoria, haven’t followed suit yet.
However, a collective attitude towards the Victorian outbreak has perhaps been exacerbated by instructions from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian for residents from her state to “stay out of Victoria.”
And as if Victorians haven’t been made to feel like pariahs enough, its own state government announced – after the announcement of 64 new cases in the previous 24 hours – that Stage 3 lockdown measures would be enacted, measures which also included putting 36 Melbourne suburbs, mainly in the city’s north and west, under specific lockdown procedures.
So what does this mean in the context of the current AFL season under jeopardy?
The Queensland government decision looms mightily in the way of possessing the potential for dire implications for the AFL. All eyes should be on the blockbuster in Geelong on Saturday afternoon – and not just for the sake of the surprising Suns being in second place taking on the Cats, currently sitting sixth on the ladder. The Suns and the Brisbane Lions have been fortunate to have played all their games so far at their home grounds since play has returned.
However, beyond whether or not the Suns can beat the Cats, the real victory would come under the guise of zero positive cases once they return to Queensland… not so much for the Suns, but moreover for the AFL.
Amid the societal and medical implications around sport in 2020, especially with the COVID-19 developments in Victoria, the AFL and McLaughlin cannot afford to have as little as one more thing go wrong that would compromise a balanced season which is already on a knife’s edge.
The league, spurred on by the Queensland government’s decision towards Victorians on Tuesday, has already rearranged some of its Round 5 fixtures for this weekend. McLaughlin can only do so much dancing around the fixture, because any further cancellations would render an unbalanced schedule where not all teams would even play each other once.
But would he have the courage – and the common sense – to call the season off. Granted that the AFL under McLaughlin’s leadership has its vested interests at heart, not the least of which come from the fans and the league’s commercial partners. It remains to be seen whether or not the season can be salvaged, in the best interests for all concerned, and especially for footy’s best interests, if the league incurs any more detrimental setbacks.
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