THE first steps to a return of AFL matches will be able to be taken as early as next week following a breakthrough outcome in a national cabinet meeting on Friday.
A staged recommencement for the 2020 season, suspended after round one due to the COVID-19 pandemic, can now be confidently planned by the AFL, state governments and medical health authorities.
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A lifting from two to 10 on the number of athletes permitted to train together will be among the new set of principles expected to be officially outlined after the next meeting of the national cabinet – next Friday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed on Friday that an Australian Institute of Sport-devised set of protocols would provide the framework for all sports bodies to re-start competition.
Ultimately, the full power of approval for AFL resumption will rest with the state governments, which have varying degrees of border control and social distancing which currently precludes team sport being played.
The AFL will spend Friday evening absorbing the content of the national cabinet deliberations.
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It will not brief the CEOs and presidents of the 18 clubs until Saturday.
Under the new principles relating specifically to the AFL and if approved by the national cabinet next Friday, groups of up to 10 people will be allowed to gather for "education and training".
Also allowed will be: "controlled kicking, marking and handballing drills; no tackling/wrestling, contact, body on body drills".
Those fresh provisions would be considered Stage B of AFL resumption, with Stage C to allow: "full training and competition … consider maintaining some small group separation (eg mids, forwards, backs)".
The transition from B to C will be dependent on all states' ability to keep in-check the spread of the coronavirus.
Football clubs were hopeful Friday night that the roadmap for matches resuming would see round two played in June.
AFL football operations boss Steve Hocking has already ruled that all clubs are to have a three-week "pre-season" before the resumption of matches, and it is yet to be determined if the allowances of training in groups of 10 would effectively constitute the start of that period.
In a long media conference after the national cabinet meeting, it was evident that a new set of "national principles" to be outlined next Friday would include a focus on re-starting the economy, inclusive of provisions applied to "sport and recreation" – which was a specific agenda item at the cabinet gathering.
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The AFL has been steadfast in all its deliberations on the resumption of matches that any decision to restart would only be reached once it had a degree of confidence that the season could be completed without another shutdown.
It relayed a worst case scenario involving a potential requirement for some players, without their families, to be isolated in hubs for up to 20 weeks to the AFL Players Association on Monday.
The AFLPA advised its members of that possibility the following day, and several senior players threatened to stand down under such a system.
The AFL industry remains hopeful that if hubs need to be used, that they are only in effect for a minimal amount of time.
The AIS report generically referenced outdoor sport amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"International evidence to date is suggestive that outdoor activities are a lower risk setting for COVID-19 transmission," it read.
It also read: "The approach to training should focus on ‘get in, train, get out’, minimising unnecessary contact in change rooms, bathrooms and communal areas. Prior to resumption, sporting organisations should have agreed protocols in place for management of illness in athletes and other personnel."