The AFL has announced the 2020 Premiership Season will commence as planned on Thursday evening, with the traditional Richmond-Carlton match at an empty MCG.
It means the AFL, NRL and A-League will all be in action this weekend, despite the ongoing coronavirus outbreak causing havoc on sport around the world.
Last year, the season-opener attracted 85,016 fans to the MCG and a similar attendance was expected again to kick-off the 2020 season, but instead only a handful of officials will be inside the 100,000-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground.
It will be a season like none other for the AFL. The number of rounds has been reduced from 23 to 17 and matches have been reduced from 20 minutes to 16 minutes plus time on. The fixture will proceed as scheduled for the first four rounds, while the fixture will be re-worked for the remaining 13 rounds of the season.
If a player tests positive to the COVID-19 virus, the season is set to grind to a halt, and the AFL think that’ll be a matter of nor if, but when.
The Grand Final may be played later than its traditional September timeslot, possibly as late as December if required. With the MCG and other major venues around Australia to be handed over to the ICC for the T20 World Cup in mid-October, the biggest game of the year may be moved to Marvel Stadium.
Round one will see two matches played at the MCG, three at Marvel and one each at Adelaide Oval, Metricon Stadium, Giants Stadium and Optus Stadium. As with all sports events, they’ll be played behind closed doors and there’s a real possibility that could be the case for the entire season which would be a financial disaster.
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AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said had been deemed “a proportionate risk” in discussions with federal chief medical officer Brendan Murphy.
“Our players are well placed to bear the risks,” McLachlan said.
“Putting a game on sits within the newly established protocols and guidelines outlined by the Prime Minister.
“We don’t know how many games we’ll get into this 153-game journey before we have to pause.
“(But) what I do know … our industry is unified making a decision to start.
“We embark on this journey with clear instruction from the government that all industry and all parts of society need to keep moving forward.”
Meanwhile, it was also announced the final two rounds of the AFLW season have been abandoned, with women’s finals to begin this weekend. The finals fixture has now been confirmed and is available here.
Also this weekend, round two of the NRL will be played in empty stadiums after fans were able to attend the opening round last weekend, while round 24 of the A-League will be played with a number of date, time and venue changes including Brisbane Roar’s game against Newcastle moved from Redcliffe to Cbus Stadium on the Gold Coast.
The W-League Grand Final will be played at an empty AAMI Park on Saturday with Melbourne City taking on Sydney. While the final two games of the NBL Grand Final series and the final round of the Sheffield Shield was cancelled and the Super Rugby season has been suspended.
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View a full wrap of the latest coronavirus updates and a summary of its impact on each sport/competition, plus a list of postponed/cancelled matches.