AFL umpires will take a minimum 50 per cent pay cut during the shutdown period under a new agreement struck with league headquarters.
The AFL will either be hailed as a pioneer or as a foolish organisation in the near future, depending on the outcome of its decision to go ahead with the 2020 season, albeit in truncated form.
The decision, reported to have been taken after consultation with Australia’s chief medical officer Dr Brendan Murphy, comes as many global publications outline the manner in which countries like Singapore and Taiwan managed the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
These two countries, along with places like Hong Kong and South Korea, imposed strong social isolation measures right at the start and have managed to keep the level of infections down. The same was the case with China, where the disease broke out first.
The AFL, and indeed Australia to a large extent, is instead throwing youngsters into a game where there is close physical contact and the chance for infection on a grand scale.
This is an almighty gamble, and while I am no doomsayer, it is somewhat beyond the odds on which one would indulge in a mild flutter.
Are we to take it then that Australian rules football is a bigger matter than life or death, as The Age’s veteran sports commentator Greg Baum put it?
One of the quotes attributed to Gillon McLachlan from Wednesday’s announcement that the season would go ahead is, “It’s going to be a long year. It’s going to be a long journey in what is an unprecedented time. We can’t lock ourselves in our house.”
But this precisely what the government is asking people to do: avoid all unnecessary contact with others and stay at home.
On the other side of the ledger, watching AFL, either in person or on the telly, is often the only thing that some people enjoy. One can’t blame them or make fun of them; that is the reality for many sports fans who live vicariously through their favourite teams.
But – one always comes back to that word – coronavirus can kill. Indications are that the elderly are more likely to die as a result of an infection, but nothing is certain. It is too early to make definitive statements as scientists know little about the virus.
The die is now cast, though. AFL games will begin on Thursday evening. Let’s hope for the best while also preparing for the worst.