During World War II, military commanders recognised the importance of entertainment to maintain morale of the troops, sending singers and comedians to wherever their troops were stationed.
Similarly, the movie Good morning Vietnam showed a radio disk jockey playing a key role in keeping troop spirits up.
In 2020, as COVID-19 forces many Australians into unemployment and many more into days and weeks of ‘lockdown’ in their own homes, the AFL can be instrumental in maintaining morale in Australian households.
CEO Gillon McLachlan needs to show vision and leadership – not bow his head and turn off the lights.
The AFL could continue. Imagine clusters of teams bunkering down for weeks at a time in isolated, virus-free locations like Norfolk Island, King Island, Christmas Island and the Tiwi Islands.
In each cluster, six teams could play each other over five weekends or over three weekends if that is more practical.
The arrival of the players and support staff – many bringing their families or partners – would boost island economies that have been hit hard by the collapse of tourism. Clubs, currently facing enormous debt as broadcast revenues dry up, could be revived. And most of all, the footy could continue to be watched by hundreds of thousands of Australians who are stuck in their homes.
Amid the boredom, people would have something to look forward to each weekend. As a way to relieve built-up tension and distract people from their problems, the footy could even help stem the rise that is expected in mental health issues and crime.
But wouldn’t the movement of players and support crews to isolated islands increase the risk of spreading the virus? That would depend on the testing and quarantining regime.
A well-resourced organisation like the AFL should be able to organise frequent testing, including before players depart and after a day or two on the island. They would remain in quarantine until the results of the second test are known, then if results were favourable they would be free to play.
2020 is Gillon McLachlan’s biggest challenge. Will he revive the AFL so it can fight the virus and illuminate lives in the coming months?