THE AFL and its clubs are working on a unified plan designed to mitigate potential behavioural risk of players who intend to stay in Queensland when their 2020 seasons have finished.
Collingwood chief executive Mark Anderson has been appointed head of a working committee established to address the matter, with a policy to be finalised before the start of the final round of matches on Thursday September 17.
The formalising of an industry strategy comes amid a backdrop of tension and worry – at club, AFL and Queensland Government levels - after the image-damaging COVID-19 protocols breaches of Richmond players Sydney Stack and Callum Coleman-Jones last Friday.
Upon completion of their seasons, players will be likely asked to leave their club hubs within a set timeframe and then continue to adhere to a bulk of AFL-issued COVID-19 rules when holidaying in Queensland.
The post-2020 season measures have been raised regularly in the past month and again on Tuesday in a long meeting which also confirmed:
- The 2020 Free Agency Period would begin, as usual, six days after the Grand Final - on Friday October 30, and run until the following Friday (November 6)
- The Trade Period would open on Wednesday November 4, and close Thursday November 12
- The NAB AFL National Draft would be held "week commencing December 7" but was yet to be given an official timeslot
- Playing list sizes, as previously forecast, would be cut in coming seasons, but that the reductions would likely be completed over a number of seasons. Negotiations with the AFL Players Association were continuing toward reaching a number for 2021
- The AFL's second-tier competition would see the VFL and NEAFL combine into one league, which in 2021 would sit alongside the SANFL and WAFL. AFL clubs based in Victoria, NSW and Queensland will be able to field a standalone team, align with an existing second-tier club, or spread their AFL-listed "overflow" players across multiple second-tier clubs. "The AFL today confirmed there will be no licence fee payable by AFL clubs to participate in the 2021 VFL & East Coast competition and that it will continue to work with standalone VFL and NEAFL clubs on their potential involvement in the competition. The AFL will continue to work with AFL clubs participating in the SANFL and WAFL and those competitions respectively ahead of their 2021 seasons"
- The Next Generation Academies - targeting Indigenous and multicultural players – would be implemented by the AFL talent pathway team with support from AFL clubs. "The northern club academies (Sydney, GWS, Brisbane, Gold Coast) will remain the responsibility of the AFL clubs with support to be provided by the AFL. The AFL advised clubs today that there would be no change to the eligibility or concessions available to AFL clubs for NGA approved players at the 2020 NAB AFL Draft".
- Pre-season training for 2021 would not be allowed to begin until November 30 at the earliest.
Many players based in Victoria, a state which has been in prolonged lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, now have families either with them in Queensland, or about to join them from next Tuesday when quarantine requirements will have expired.
The players believe they will be given permission to stay in the state for as long as they choose, and while on Tuesday that was yet to be officially endorsed by the AFL industry and government, talks were continuing to indicate that to be the case.
The heightened tension over potential player misbehaviour came early last Friday after Stack and Coleman-Jones were fined by police for involvement in a fight outside a Surfers Paradise strip club.
It was the latest of several COVID-19 protocols breaches by AFL players, and came at a time when the Queensland State Government found itself criticised by the Federal Government over aspects of the special treatment afforded the AFL industry.
The AFL industry will continue to explore measures on how to deal with such incidents, given the obvious need to be respectful to the Queensland Government for the lifeline it provided the AFL industry in allowing matches to be played in the state.
As part of the post-2020 season measures, players will be banned from holding traditional "Mad Monday" functions, either in or outside their club hubs.