It’s the only news story that matters at the moment.
While everything else hasn’t been completely rendered insignificant, the impact of the Coronavirus has been felt the world over. Sports leagues around the world have been suspended. International events have been cancelled or postponed.
The fear of loss of jobs and income is real and is starting to hit home, which makes the need for any emotional nourishment ever more needed.
For any administrator of any sport over the world, the choices they have been faced with over the past week and a half would have been the toughest of their careers.
Here in Australia, the likes of Todd Greenberg and Gillon McLachlan and their respective commissions have had big decisions to make. These are decisions not only to protect their industry and all the stakeholders involved, but decisions that fall in line with strict new government regulations when it comes to living everyday life.
This weekend, the AFL will commence their season behind closed doors while the NRL and A-League will also continue their seasons behind closed doors.
Gillon McLachlan has had to navigate many tough times in his time in the big chair at the AFL. While this decision sits at the top of the list, it might also be his defining moment as CEO of the code. As fans and constituents of the code, we must be grateful we have a leader of his ilk at the top at this time.
Leadership at the best of times is hard. People look to people at the top for guidance and how to navigate through a tricky situation. Nathan Buckley’s tweet at the peak of the bushfire crisis in the summer hits the nail on the head of how testing leadership can be at difficult times.
Leadership is hard. Put your hand up and accept what could have been done better, by you and by others. Then accept the vitriol, the hurt and the pain. Listen, understand and empathize. Then take action. Firstly for today and then for tomorrow.
— Nathan Buckley (@ncb_cfc) January 3, 2020
It could have been so incredibly easy for Gillon McLachlan to join the rest of the world by cancelling or suspending the league temporarily and leaving an even bigger gap in people’s lives. Instead, he listened, empathised, gathered all the information from the key people, and delivered the message to his community on the way forward.
Play on. Not as normal, but we will play on.
The AFL have had many leaders pass through the big chair. Every one of them left their own unique legacy and piece of history. Ross Oakley led us through the era of expanding to a national competition and the unfortunate demise of Fitzroy. Wayne Jackson took us to what we know now as Marvel Stadium and set the path in motion to keep all the clubs alive today. Andrew Demetriou led us through broadcast rights and expansion and the saga that will linger forever. McLachlan now faces his biggest challenge and a chance to further cement his legacy.
For all the CBA arguments and agreements, the establishment of the women’s competition and bringing it forward to allow more growth to the game, leading a code through mourning at various occasions, changing the rules and equalisation, McLachlan has had a remarkable and eventful six years in the job.
There are some huge achievements to have on your resume along the way. But navigating a code through a time when there is so much uncertainty in almost every aspect of the game, across every level, might prove to be McLachlan’s finest hour.
As Peter Gordon, the Western Bulldogs’ chairman, put it on SEN Radio the other day: “I’m really glad we’ve got Gillon McLachlan at the helm”.
Gordon said that the current financial strength of the AFL and the strength of most clubs is due to McLachlan’s leadership at the top. Gordon said: “There are less clubs in debt; there are many more clubs that have got some cash reserves. We’ve got intellectual resources, and we’ve got financial resources to deal with it (Coronavirus).” Gordon sits on the AFL cabinet with McLachlan as part of the AFL’s response team to COVID-19.
We face uncertain times. The season began on Thursday night, but we don’t know how long it will go for and what type of season we will get. But for whatever gets thrown our way, we are in good hands and as a code.
Players, fans, staff, media, broadcasters and everyone involved in this great game from the big leagues to country footy to Auskick, we will go on and find a way to get through this together.