Richmond’s match against Adelaide at the MCG has been moved to Sydney as the AFL scrambles to deal with a looming lockdown in Victoria.
Trying to understand life is sometimes a futile pursuit. Yesterday provided another instance.
The country awoke to the horrific news that Adelaide Crows coach Phillip Walsh was dead.
Many a mind would have immediately recalled the death of another Phillip – Phillip Hughes – in November.
Hughes died at the hands of the sport he loved; Walsh allegedly at the hands of a loved one. Both deaths were acknowledged with tears, disbelief and the shaking of heads.
For the second time in nine months one of the country’s major sporting codes was plunged into despair.
Rightly, the AFL has chosen to cancel Sunday’s scheduled match between Geelong and Adelaide. It was the logical and correct response.
No employees would want to be back at work just two days after the death of their boss, especially in such heinous circumstances. Whether the entire round of fixtures should have been abandoned is a discussion for another time.
So often we hear, in jest, the saying that ‘sport is more important than life and death’. It never has been, of course, and it never will.
Your team losing by a goal or being seemingly robbed by a poor decision is not a tragedy, nor is an average sportsman a legend or a great. The language of sport, and the hyperbole that surrounds it, is inflated and distorted on a daily basis.
What happened yesterday was a tragedy and there is no other way to aptly describe it. In the sporting sense a club is trying to cope. Players, staff and supporters are doing it tough. For the players it is a terrible time as they feel a collective sense of limbo and loss.
Sport, by its very nature, is a dichotomy. It is a vehicle that brings us together but also a wedge that drives us apart. It is tribal by nature – a fact witnessed around playing fields, courts and ovals every weekend.
Domestically, it is a case of them against us, or as rugby league has quite rightly described it, ‘mate against mate’.
We as Australians hold the concept of mateship dearly. It was forged on the back of our colonial heritage; fostered by the back-breaking work to clear the land; galvanised on the sands of Gallipoli and Western Europe; and everlasting on the sporting fields.
It is that sense of mateship that will be called upon now as the players and staff of the Crows look to move forward. While domestic sport may be tribal, on the broader international front it is a vehicle that brings us together.
Think the America’s Cup in 1987; Cathy Freeman at Sydney; and Keiren Perkins at Atlanta – events that brought a nation to a halt and filled us with an overwhelming sense of pride. Just as such joyous sporting events bring us together, so too does tragedy.
All of Australia is still coming to the terms with the shock of the past 24 hours.
However, last night at the conclusion of the Hawthorn-Collingwood match at the MCG a healing balm of sorts was applied to the thousands in mourning.
In a gesture hastily organised by the respective coaches – Alastair Clarkson and Nathan Buckley – both teams locked arms around the centre circle, collectively bowed their heads and offered the most poignant and emotive minute’s silence that sport’s mighty colosseum had ever played host to.
In all my time watching and calling sport I have never seen such an incredibly moving moment. In a time of utter despair for the Australian football community there was a moment of beauty – tender and warm and performed by two groups of men who had spent the previous two hours locked in sporting combat.
The Adelaide Football Club has lost its titular head, the players their coach and mentor. But, above all, the family of Phil Walsh has lost a husband, father, son and brother, all at the hands of one of their own.
Their loss is hard to comprehend and impossible to quantify.
Sport will go on but for many it will never be the same. But, safe to say, the tribute given by those that ringed the centre of the MCG last night will never be forgotten.