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THE 2020 AFL season is all systems go.
While no one, including the AFL commissioners who Wednesday night voted to start the season as per normal, knows how many matches will be played, it was decided the traditional Richmond-Carlton AFL season opener on Thursday night at the MCG would proceed.
Another series of emergency meetings and phone hook-ups at the AFL's Docklands headquarters to deal with the devastating Coronavirus outbreak finally gave the all-clear for the 2020 start, after weeks of detailed deliberations.
R1 TEAMS Tigers and Blues locked in
Games will be shortened to 16 minutes plus time on giving the AFL room to push more games into a smaller window at the start of the season, while the AFLW fixture to progress directly to the finals series and forgo the final two rounds of the regular season.
Nearing on 8pm on Wednesday night, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan announced the League had come to its decision after "wide consultation" with the football industry, Australia's chief medical officer and Government representatives.
Players received an email from the AFLPA one min ago. They’re playing this weekend @AFLcomau— Mitch Cleary (@cleary_mitch) March 18, 2020
"We also embark on this journey with clear instruction from the government that all industry and all parts of society need to keep moving forward and we simply cannot stand still," he said.
"We must go forward day by day listening to the advice and continue to make the best decisions for our industry while balancing well-being, welfare, leadership, and economic and social impacts. We don’t know how many games we will get into this 153-game journey before we have to pause," he said.
"But what I do know today is I feel comfortable with the government and medical advice, and the support of our presidents, CEOs, players and coaches.
The AFL Players Association advised the AFL on Tuesday its players wanted to start the season, as did club CEOs in a teleconference hook-up on Wednesday morning.
In a Wednesday 9am address to the nation, Prime Minister Scott Morrison directly placed the onus of making a decision to play matches onto the AFL commission.
Despite banning mass gatherings of 100 or more people, Mr Morrison said it was up to the AFL to determine if it proceeded with matches.
The AFL had been hoping for a government directive, be that an exclusion provision to play matches or an ordered ban.
'IT'S A POSSIBILITY' Entire season could be locked out to fans
Instead, it was forced to make the decision itself.
The decision came two days after the AFL commission had reduced the 2020 season from 22 matches per club to 17 in a bid to provide flexibility on scheduling in a season which is guaranteed to be severely interrupted.
The AFL boss said it was important that the players were "unequivocal" in their determination to play.
McLachlan said the League was still looking at pushing in more games into the opening block of the season, but that the first four rounds of match-ups remain locked in.
"It's going to be day-by-day, but if we can accelerate it we will," he said.
The AFL has bucked the trend of sports internationally, with the large majority of leading competitions, including the English Premier League, NBA, Major League Baseball and tennis tournaments, putting things on hold.
Last week the Formula One event, held in Melbourne, was also cancelled, but McLachlan said he didn't feel the AFL was placing itself above others with its decision to play on.
"I don't think so. I think the distinction is that it's entirely consistent with the policy and position of our Government, both state and federal, and it's consistent with what the chief medical officer told us today that his strategy for dealing with this crisis is that industry goes forward," he said.
"That we can't stand still, and that was incredibly compelling for the Commission to hear that this morning.
"The Prime Minister said this morning that we can't lock ourselves in our house. If that was the view, that we're going into lockdown and that was the best way forward, then we would have followed that. But that wasn't the advice."