After hours of speculation, AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has confirmed the 2020 premiership will go ahead despite the coronavirus outbreak.
After hours of speculation, AFL boss Gillon McLachlan has confirmed the 2020 premiership will go ahead despite the coronavirus outbreak.

Confirmed: AFL commences this weekend

Less than 24 hours before the round one kicks off, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has finally confirmed the AFL premiership will not be postponed.

The coronavirus outbreak has wreaked havoc on the sporting world, speculation mounting whether the AFL and AFLW would go ahead as planned.

However, McLachlan confirmed the 2020 AFL premiership will commence on Thursday evening with a Melbourne derby in an empty MCG.

But the AFL will release further details regarding the AFLW competition on Thursday. There are only two rounds remaining in the women's competition.

The decision comes after days of deliberation and a four-hour AFL Commission meeting.

McLachlan also revealed match quarters will be reduced to 16 minutes.

"Today's deflection point was reached after widespread conversations … Our 17-round season becomes a 153-game journey," McLachlan told reporters on Thursday evening.

"We have to be agile and flexible. Quarters will be 16 minutes plus time on.

"We know at any time a player may test positive and halt our journey temporarily.

"We start tomorrow night, confident after discussions with the chief medical officer that the players are well-placed for the proportionate risks of contact sport. We commence on government advice that putting on a game sits within the new guidelines from this morning."

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan speaks to the media
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan speaks to the media

Earlier in the week, McLachlan announced the AFL premiership would be reduced to 17 rounds. It was also reported all 18 AFL clubs expressed their support for the season starting this weekend.

ALL 18 CLUBS EAGER TO PLAY

All 18 AFL club chief executives reportedly told Gillon McLachlan Wednesday morning they supported the season starting this weekend.

The Herald Sun and The Age reported AFL chief executive McLachlan received feedback from the clubs during a teleconference on Wednesday, expressing their unanimous desire for the premiership not to be postponed.

An announcement about whether round one of the AFL premiership will go ahead was expected sometime Wednesday afternoon, but The Age journalist Daniel Cherny revealed the AFL was planning another teleconference with the club CEOs, further delaying an official decision.

Carlton and Richmond players remain uncertain whether they will take the field tomorrow evening at the MCG.

Speaking on AFL Tonight, Fox Sports reporter Tom Morris claimed McLachlan wanted the Federal Government to make the decision on his behalf.

"My sense is that Gill McLachlan would have liked the government to say 'no you can't play footy this weekend'. Take the decision out of his hands," Morris said.

Morris later confirmed multiple AFL and AFLW umpires were told on Wednesday to prepare for duty, implying round one would go ahead.

Other reaction and developments include:

- Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying the decision whether or not to go ahead with the season is up to the AFL if it can abide by new restrictions announced today.

- AFL Players Association boss Paul Marsh hitting back at claims players have been greedy by demanding a full 22-week season.

- Collingwood president Eddie McGuire saying players are "bleeding" at the thought of club employees being hurt financially.

- Former Western Bulldogs captain Bob Murphy being "staggered" the majority of players voted to continue with Round 1, accusing them of being "completely out of step" with the rest of the world.

TRAPPED SEVEN STAR OPENS UP ON NEED TO ISOLATE

Channel 7 AFL commentator Brian Taylor found himself stranded in the US because of the coronavirus outbreak and gave an insight into what life is like in Los Angeles before he comes home and is forced into isolation.

"I see the quarantine side of things as just my contribution, something I can do to make everyone else safer," Taylor said.

"Really it's a duty of what I've got myself into by being here, to go home and jump into quarantine, do it, do it properly, do it the way it's being asked to be done and that's my contribution really."

Taylor won't be able to commentate the opening matches of the season if it goes ahead and he took a lighthearted jab at Seven colleague Hamish McLachlan about stealing his thunder.

"I know Bruce (McAvaney) will be there (commentating at the game), but whoever's there, Hamish, it's just a temporary seat, mate. It's just a temporary seat," Taylor said.

"In 14 days I'll be back in business.

"Don't sit there thinking you've got my job, Hammo. You've got enough jobs."

REPORT: RICHMOND TOLD TO PLAN FOR A GAME, HARDWICK PREPARES FOR CHANGE

Crocmedia's chief sports reporter Sam Edmund is reporting Richmond players have been told their game against Carlton on Thursday night is still going ahead at this stage.

Tom Morris of Foxsports.com.au also reports Tigers stars have been told the season opener is on, but Carlton has heard nothing official yet and the AFL is yet to make an official, public announcement.

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If the game goes ahead, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick is preparing for a big change with shortened quarters, down from 20 minutes to 16-and-a-half minutes.

"We were one of the clubs with the condensing of the season hoping to get more players on the bench but I think that has been knocked on the head," Hardwick said.

"Quarters will be shorter, it will be 16-and-half-minutes plus time on we think. That's not to say the rules won't change along the way.

"It's an extraordinary set of circumstances we are in but we have some really good people in charge who will make some good decisions if they need to."

'INCREDIBLY DISAPPOINTING': AFLPA HITS BACK

AFL Players Association (AFLPA) boss Paul Marsh has moved to clear up confusion about the stance of the players amid the coronavirus crisis.

It was reported a majority of players voted to push on with a 22-game season, after the AFL announced earlier in the week it had decided on a 17-game season.

Some, including Herald Sun chief footy writer Mark Robinson, said this was a decision motivated by money, but Marsh has spoken to reject such accusations.

"The direction this has taken is incredibly disappointing," Marsh told Gerard Whateley on SEN. "What we said is that players - both male and female - are prepared to play.

"They are not going to play if their safety or the safety of the community is going to be compromised.

"We (the players) haven't come out and demanded 22 games. All we've said is we want to defer this decision, and make it at a time where we've got a little more certainty.

"The players are part of this industry. They know there are pay cuts coming here. That's a given. Even if we played 22 rounds, there's crowd lockouts and the rest of it. There are pay cuts coming here for everybody."

Earlier in the day, Marsh said: "The prospect of playing 22 games is much less likely than it was before we started this discussion.

"All we've said is we want to keep that option open.

"This is not us saying, 'We just need to push ahead and play 22 games'.

"Everyone's in shock at the moment."

Marsh's comments come after players like Jack Riewoldt and Mitch Robinson rubbished suggestions the players wanted to play a full season because they didn't want to accept any pay cuts.

"Players, staff and more can also lose their jobs, livelihood and definitely houses," Robinson tweeted.

"We as players have reiterated time and time again to the media we just want to play 'IF' it's safe to do so."

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The players have hit back over concerns they’ve been misrepresented.
The players have hit back over concerns they’ve been misrepresented.

GRIM UPDATE AS PM SPEAKS

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed the nation this morning about the additional steps to be taken to fight the spread of coronavirus, announcing bans on indoor gatherings of 100 people or more, and bans on outdoor gatherings of 500 people or more.

This applies to all venues - bars, restaurants, clubs, pubs, nightclubs, the lot.

Mr Morrison then said the decision to continue playing footy was up to the AFL and NRL, putting the heat firmly on the governing bodies to decide whether their competitions can continue in light of the new regulations.

"That's a decision for them to make in accordance to the rules that have been established - no gatherings of more than 500, no internal gatherings of 100 or more, and there will be other measures that will follow," Mr Morrison said.

"So they need to make their own decisions about how they manage that. We'll focus on our responsibilities.

"The commissioners of the NRL and the AFL can make their decisions based on what they believe is best for their game, but they must comply obviously with all of the health guidelines that have been established."

Mr Morrison confirmed the new measures will be in place for at least six months, meaning fans will be locked out of grounds for that amount of time.

AFLPA CEO Paul Marsh said the Prime Minister's words were "sobering" and admitted things were looking grim for Round 1.

"It's all pretty sobering isn't it … it's hard to see (Round 1 going ahead), but as I was saying before is what we've been doing here is discussing with the AFL and I know they've been in briefings with the government overnight and it's a discussion we need to have," Marsh said on SEN.

"I don't want to jump to, 'It's off', but it doesn't look good, does it?

"Things have changed this morning and now we need to work out what that all means."

EDDIE UNDERGOES TEST, SAYS PLAYERS ARE 'BLEEDING'

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire was given the all-clear after undergoing a precautionary coronavirus test and detailed what that entails.

"What they do is they do a swab, they stick a long, elongated - like an earbud type of thing -- down your throat," McGuire said on Triple M Melbourne's Hot Breakfast.

"It's not too onerous. It's right down your throat, it's mildly uncomfortable but they do that for a couple seconds and get that out.

"Then they do one that does bring a tear to your eye. They get the swab and turn it upside down and they whack it up your nose. It goes right through, like they're scratching the inside of your brain. It's slightly uncomfortable but it's only for a couple seconds.

"Then they have another stick, which they did up my other nostril to test for any other viruses."

Speaking on Channel 9's Today, McGuire said Collingwood players were as much concerned about the impact this crisis will have on club staff rather than just the on-field ramifications.

"Everyone is making a sacrifice along the way. The players have already said, 'We will do anything'," McGuire said.

"I know talking to the Collingwood boys, they are bleeding that some of their colleagues on the other side of the building if you like, those working in admin, are going to have to take pay cuts and maybe even lose their jobs.

"It's one in, all in."

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The start of the season is still up in the air.
The start of the season is still up in the air.

'STAGGERED': AFL PLAYERS MISS THE MARK

Former Western Bulldogs captain Bob Murphy says he's "staggered" the majority of AFL players want to plough ahead with a 22-week season as the AFL Players Association (AFLPA) urged the governing body to shift its stance after announcing a 17-week season earlier this week.

AFLPA chief Paul Marsh said yesterday the players are keen to play a full 22-week season rather than a shortened one. It was revealed 88 per cent of players voted in favour of Round 1 going ahead on time, while 12 per cent had concerns.

There have been suggestions from some, including Herald Sun chief football reporter Mark Robinson, that willingness to play on is based purely on money.

If a shortened season goes ahead, it's possible players will need to take a pay cut, with reports that could be by as much as 20 per cent.

Murphy was taken aback when he heard of the AFLPA's position.

"I'm staggered by that, it's completely out of step with where the rest of the world is trending," Murphy told SEN's Bob and Andy.

"I think the AFLPA and the players themselves had their noses out of joint that the AFL announced the 17-round season without consultation. That's my sense.

"No one likes handing money back, but in the context of what is happening in business and society with people losing their jobs, 20 per cent might be the best deal going around.

"I am staggered by that. Jumping last night between the footy shows and Q&A, I couldn't help but feel footy is quite arrogant in some ways.

"If it comes out that their motivating factor is to get their full whack and not lose 20 per cent (of their pay), it will go down like a knackered lift.

"I'm just hoping and praying that it is not because of the pay cut. I'd feel ashamed if that was the reason."

Is a full 22-week season really possible?
Is a full 22-week season really possible?

Speaking on Fox Footy's AFL 360 on Tuesday night, Robinson was also critical of the noise coming out of the players' camp.

"The players have pulled the wrong cord today," he said. "I think they're going to get little or no sympathy from the greater public, some of whom are losing their jobs, losing their livelihoods.

"This decision by the Players Association today, make no mistake, is all about money. They don't want to take a 20 per cent pay cut."

Robinson's AFL 360 co-host Gerard Whateley agreed, suggesting younger players in their early 20s would likely be the ones who voted in favour of the season going ahead as normal, because they lack perspective on the world around them.

"The players have played a losing hand," Whateley said. " I don't think they (players in their early 20s) have a great view of what's happening in the world at the moment."

Speaking on SEN Breakfast, Melbourne legend Garry Lyon was struggling to comprehend footy's desire to play when other leagues around Australia and the world are pulling up stumps.

"It's an out-of-step attitude here," Lyon said.

Essendon legend and Lyon's SEN Breakfast co-host Tim Watson added: "I can't get my head around the season beginning tomorrow … I still feel there is no way the season will begin tomorrow, in my mind.

"It can't possibly go ahead."

RIEWOLDT WANTS TO PLAY

The message is loud and clear from AFL clubs and a majority of players.

As premiership coach Damien Hardwick put it: "If they want us to play, we'll play." But the unanswered question is, "Do they?"

Today is D-Day for the AFL as it rapidly approaches a time when it needs to make a definitive call on whether round one will go ahead amid the coronavirus crisis.

The delay has left Carlton and Richmond on tenterhooks ahead of Thursday night's scheduled season opener at the MCG.

"I would play anywhere at the moment," Tigers spearhead Jack Riewoldt told Fox Footy on Tuesday night.

"I just want to get this game going and get out there and do something that I love and plenty of people love watching."

Jack Riewoldt desperately wants the season to start.
Jack Riewoldt desperately wants the season to start.

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan said on Monday that if one player or club official tests positive for the coronavirus then the league will instantly be put on hold for 14 days.

Several have been tested - most notably Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury - but as yet none have tested positive.

A growing number of players have also been sent away from their clubs and isolated from teammates as precautionary measures.

Looking beyond round one, the players, through their union, have urged the AFL to backflip on its plan for a 17-round home-and-away season and move back to a standard schedule of 22 matches per club.

It has sparked accusations of greed, but players may be required to take a pay cut regardless of whether they play a shortened season as the competition braces for a significant revenue hit either way.

D-DAY FOR ROUND 1 DECISION

The AFL will today make a decision on whether round one of the 2020 season goes ahead amid ongoing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus crisis.

It leaves players and clubs in limbo ahead of Thursday night's season opener between Carlton and Richmond, which is due to be played behind closed doors at the MCG.

The AFL's move to push back a final call on Tuesday evening came as the AFL and AFLW playing groups confirmed their commitment to playing out their respective seasons.

Players' Association boss Paul Marsh said an "overwhelming majority" of players indicated they were eager to continue as planned, but admitted some had also expressed safety concerns.

It was later reported 88 per cent of players were happy to play, while 12 per cent had concerns.

The AFL released a statement on Tuesday evening saying it would continue to be guided by relevant Government and medical authorities.

Marsh said players were prepared for a decision on round one to be pushed back as far as Thursday, however, the AFL has committed to making a call more than 24 hours out from the season opener.

The decision could yet be taken out of the league's hands.

The Federal Government is considering whether to drastically reduce the number of people allowed in "mass gatherings" from the current 500 cap. There is also a push from Perth-based medical professionals to close the WA borders.

Both situations would present insurmountable hurdles for the AFL in its bid to start the season.

 

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan is facing an unprecedented challenge.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan is facing an unprecedented challenge.

As it stands, the AFL is set to push ahead with a reduced 17-round men's season, announced on Monday, which was designed to give the competition wiggle room around likely postponements at some point.

But AFL players have since urged the league to consider a backflip and attempt to play out a full season of 22 matches per club, plus finals. Marsh said players are prepared to keep playing later than usual in the year in order to make that happen.

"The players want to play, the players will do everything they can," Marsh said. "They still have optimism of a 22-game season here.

"We've got a 40-week window and players will make sacrifices around scheduling and leave and everything else to try to give the industry a chance of surviving this or getting through this."

Marsh said players had accepted they would need to take a pay cut at some point as the AFL faces a major loss of revenue.

Negotiations between the league and players could take months.

"Everyone's hurting here and the players will be part of that," Marsh said. "We have a role to play and we accept that that's going to happen.

"We don't know what the size of the hole is yet, so that needs to be worked through."

AAP