The potential fixturing clash between cricket’s T20 World Cup and the AFL season prompted by the coronavirus outbreak is a perfect chance for the AFL to ditch an outdated tradition by hosting its grand final outside of Victoria.
The AFL is expected today to announce amended plans for its 2020 season, which was meant to begin tomorrow but now could be postponed for more than a month, pushing its finals into the cricket season.
Complicating this matter is the fact Australia is hosting this year’s T20 World Cup, a huge 16-nation event which begins on October 18 in Geelong.
This four-week tournament will be held at seven grounds across Australia – the SCG, MCG, Gabba, Perth Stadium, Adelaide Oval, Simonds Stadium and Bellerive Oval – each of which are also AFL venues.
The hugely powerful International Cricket Council already has contracts with these venues and with the various State Governments, which leaves the AFL in a weak position if it decides to extend its season beyond the original closing date of September 26 to go deep into October.
The AFL could be forced to make a request for generosity from the ICC, who would have minimal motivation to free up grounds. Or the AFL could try to strong-arm some of these venues, who make so much money out of their competition. How that will play out I can’t possibly predict.
Of course, all this speculation could be moot should the coronavirus outbreak fail to be contained in the coming months. There are now almost 200,000 confirmed cases across the world, with more than 10,000 new infections announced yesterday.
Australia has so far been spared a heavy outbreak but the future offers no guarantees. Cricket Australia has been wise to cancel its remaining matches this season and the AFL really should follow its lead and postpone the season.
The rampant spread of the coronavirus through Europe in the past fortnight should be sufficient evidence Australia needs to do everything possible to protect its people, including cancelling all sports events.
Hopefully, the AFL can still host a shortened season that would offer some satisfaction to fans. If that involves pushing the finals deep into October or even November, then the league will, in some ways, be at the mercy of the ICC.
A flashpoint would likely emerge about the venue for the grand final. In the AFL/VFL’s 124-year history, the grand final has always been played in Melbourne, and in the last 75 years all but one grand final has been played at the MCG.
The same way Lord’s is considered the home of cricket, the MCG is the undisputed home of Aussie rules. For years now the AFL has rejected calls for the decider to be played outside of Victoria.
This tradition is unfair to interstate teams who finish higher on the ladder than their opponents, yet still have to play the grand final away from home. The game remains too Melbourne-centric.
If the AFL finds a way to schedule its grand final well before the first T20 World Cup match at the MCG on October 25, then it will be able to continue its antiquated tradition. If not, the AFL will have to play the grand final somewhere else, hopefully outside of Victoria, which would be great for the competition in the long term.
I cannot imagine the ICC will shift the World Cup schedule to allow the AFL access to the MCG between late October and mid-November. There are regular World Cup matches at the MCG from October 25 and November 15, when the tournament final will be held there.
Hopefully this won’t turn into a messy situation that pits Aussie rules against cricket. Many Aussie rules supporters are cricket fans and vice versa. They’re my two favourite sports and always have been.
The best-case scenario is that the Australia-wide measures currently in place to halt the spread of the coronavirus will be successful and the AFL season will be able to finish before the T20 World Cup.
An AFL finals series immediately followed by a World Cup sounds like heaven to me. Enough to ward off the coronavirus blues.