THE AFL has hastily responded to Richmond coach Damien Hardwick's criticism of Victorian Premier Dan Andrews' COVID protocols, issuing a reminder that current isolation rules were required for community safety.
After the Tigers' loss to St Kilda on Sunday night, Hardwick called on Premier Andrews to ease rules relating to COVID close contacts.
"If we could just get rid of the close contact rule, Dan, that would be terrific, would make everyone's life a hell of a lot easier," Hardwick said, in reference to his player Sydney Stack being forced to miss a VFL match on the weekend.
>> WATCH HARDWICK'S POST-MATCH MEDIA CONFERENCE HERE
The AFL on Monday seemingly moved to distance itself from those comments.
"We maintain the same position as we have for the last two years that the health and safety of everyone in the community is paramount and we are led by the relevant state governments regarding the protocols that are required to continue to keep the community safe and well," the AFL said in a statement to AFL.com.au.
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"The work of everyone on the front line of the ongoing COVID pandemic – nurses, doctors, healthcare workers - has been nothing short of incredible and we thank them for their continued dedication and sacrifice, and we will continue to play our role in doing what we can to support their efforts in keeping the community safe."
Later on Monday, Hardwick released a clarification of his intent on Twitter, saying his comments on Sunday were "tongue in cheek".
"To clarify, my comments post-match regarding rules around close contacts were a tongue in cheek reference to the fact we missed Sydney Stack on the [weekend]. Nothing more," he said.
"People far better placed than myself put these rules in place to support the efforts of our health care workers."
In the past two rounds, coaches of Carlton (Michael Voss) and Fremantle (Justin Longmuir) have been forced to miss matches through COVID isolation protocols, and Melbourne full-forward Ben Brown was unavailable for the same reasons in round three against Essendon.
West Coast has been by far the worst hit with COVID unavailability, being forced to make 14 changes to its round two team, and 12 for round three.