Amid growing uncertainty over the summer’s remaining sporting events due to recent positive COVID-19 cases in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, what is in store for the AFL’s competitions starting over the next three months?
This weekend right around the country seven AFLW practice matches have been conducted behind closed doors in order to protect players ahead of their nine-round season commencing in the next fortnight due to serious concerns about interstate travel disruptions.
The Greater Western Sydney AFLW team had relocated to Albury on the New South Wales-Victoria border to enable them to get to Western Australia later this month to play their Round 1 match, but now border closures have made those plans obsolete.
The AFLW fixture will need to undergo some changes amid various border closures and restrictions, with matches in Western Australia and possibly the Gold Coast in some doubt as clubs brace for the schedule to be affected before a ball has been kicked in anger.
With AFL clubs in full preseason training, players are being put into groups of ten, and senior-listed squads may not train with any players not otherwise approved, even where the club has contracted players training for second-tier football.
For northern academies this means that under-19s players can’t train with seniors and have to have the same strict group training guidelines as their AFL club counterparts, while those still at school will need to take even further precautions as their term starts in the next two weeks.
So too will the Victorian junior NAB League clubs need to restrict interaction between their teenage charges and players from the AFLW and AFL men’s teams, especially those next-generation players who regularly spend this time of year training with seniors, while the logistics of managing teenagers finishing school in 2021 as well as playing APS footy could turn out to be a nightmare.
SANFL and WAFL have similar issues, with their competitions going from colts, reserves, state league seniors and AFL level, yet with West Coast and Fremantle sending unselected players to the WAFL plus Adelaide and Port doing the same in the SANFL, not to mention three AFLW franchises with four girls academies, the situation is beginning to look like 2020 all over again.
Last year several competitions were abandoned, including the VFL and NEAFL as well as Victoria’s under-18s NAB League and APS, leading to big changes for the 2021 season that is now endangered.
Another casualty of the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions has been the AFL Academy, with its 21 specially chosen prospects unable to gather in one place and the coaches in some cases unable to travel to meet with the newly chosen elite teenagers, with Victoria’s border continually opening and closing to certain destinations, making planning impossible.
Tasmania, the ACT and the NT are regions without clubs in national or interstate competitions, although they are involved in teams in the yet to be formally announced NAB League schedule and could potentially be considered for hub-like competitions, especially for junior football.
Unpalatable as it may be, the 2021 AFL preseason is under threat after Brisbane’s recent panic lockdown and Melbourne’s developing tennis disaster, while Sydney’s ongoing failure to suppress locally transmitted coronavirus cases continues to have state borders in flux.
Test cricket has continued unabated and while the Big Bash already has delayed game contingencies for rain, yet the Sheffield Shield resumption faces similar logistical difficulties to the AFL, with interstate travel in doubt if there’s another outbreak or hotspot declared.
It is too early to say whether the AFL season itself will be affected or whether the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine will give administrators some heart that normality could soon resume.
However, with the virus still raging across the planet and governments in our country at such odds over border security, all levels of competition of Australian rules football are at risk for the second year in a row and disruptions already loom large.