THE AFL plans to play round one of the 2020 season as scheduled, but without spectators in stadiums.
After a series of meetings which began before 7am Friday, the AFL commission on Friday evening told its clubs it intended to play all nine matches of round one, as fixtured, as the first part of the contingency plans required to deal with the coronavirus outbreak which is sweeping the world.
It has, though, reserved the right to revisit that decision as new information from federal and state governments, and medical health authorities, comes to hand.
AFLW ROUND SIX Games closed to fans
The season opener will see Richmond play Carlton at the MCG next Thursday night.
Multiple clubs have expressed reservations about playing to empty stadiums, and several senior players had made it known to the AFL Players Association that they would prefer for the season start to be postponed over it beginning as scheduled only to be paused soon after.
But the players were aware that that was an ideal world request in these unprecedented times and that in seeking such an outcome, it would place in immediate jeopardy the industry's ability to ensure all 198 home and away season and nine finals matches were played.
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The AFL had been adamant all week that playing all scheduled matches was forefront of all contingency plans, as doing so would ensure the honouring of the game's most crucial contracts – those with TV broadcasters.
There are effectively four weeks of wiggle room for the AFL in the 2020 season, in order to squeeze in the 198 matches – the two bye rounds (the one each club gets midway through the season and the one post round 23) as well as the two weeks after the Grand Final (September 26), before the MCG needs to be handed back to cricket authorities for a T20 World Cup tournament.
There is an acceptance of the playing group that at least some matches will be shortened in length, and that team lists will need to be bolstered with players who are not currently listed.
Depending on player availability, some clubs might be forced to play several matches in relatively quick succession.
The AFL Players Association executive officially met on Thursday, where all obvious contingencies were thrashed out and discussed, as was the decision of the NBA to indefinitely postpone its season because of the Coronavirus outbreak.
The players have committed, within reason under the extraordinary circumstances, to being as flexible as possible in playing all fixtured matches.
ROUND ONE FIXTURE Check out where your club is scheduled to play
While virtually every aspect of the AFL industry will suffer potentially catastrophic cuts to finances, players' salaries will be paid in full if the 198 premiership and nine finals matches are played.
The clubs are very nervous about their plights, and have been told by the AFL to attempt to save $1 million on their season 2020 books, which will inevitably lead to lay-offs and redundancies.
Geelong president Colin Carter tells the club’s season launch he expects the Cats will lose $1million for every home game lost in fan shut-out.— Mitch Cleary (@cleary_mitch) March 13, 2020
The Cats also expect to be debt-free by the end of March for the first time in a long, long time @AFLcomau
The AFL executive and working party teams met for four hours Friday morning, and again for a similar amount of time Friday afternoon to work through all scenarios pertaining to the AFL season.
As it met in the morning, the Melbourne Formula 1 Grand Prix was officially cancelled, and Cricket Australia decided to ban spectator attendance at Friday's one-day international between Australia and New Zealand at the SCG.
The no-crowd scenario became official when, 90 minutes after the AFL's executive meeting had finished, the Council Of Australian Government (COAG) chief medical officers convened for two hours to determine that mass gatherings of 500 people or more be cancelled.