Australia is doing no better or worse than other countries deprived of their professional sport due to the new coronavirus. Which is probably surprising in itself.
This is a nation that prides itself on its sporting competitions and its love of sport. At this time of the year there was to be action in the three major football codes: the National Rugby League and Australian rules football and the latter stages of the Super Rugby tournament.
All of those competitions were postponed indefinitely when Australia went into protective mode: among the first was social distancing and bans on international travel; then forcing incoming passengers to spend 14 days in isolation. Then shutdowns of all but essential shops and services, and finally bans on travel between states unless those travelers also spent 14 days in isolation.
“There’s no doubt we are all missing our sport, but in the overall scheme of things, this virus has to take priority over our health and well-being,” says Ken Anderson, who with his wife Kaye own a news agency on Queensland state’s Sunshine Coast.
Anderson played cricket at a high enough level that he was signed by a New Zealand provincial side 40 years ago, and he still plays in over-60 Masters teams. Now the former Melbourne resident loves most particularly his Essendon AFL team. When the Bombers win, he’ll wear the team’s jersey in his shop the following day.
That jersey may have to be put in mothballs for a while.
The AFL season has been suspended until at least May 31, with league hierarchy already reducing the campaign to 17 rounds. Just one round of matches was played before the season was halted.
Some clubs had originally suggested a potential May 4 return to training, but Carlton chief executive Cain Liddle said he anticipated further delays.
“We’ve been pretty honest with our players to say it’s our view that those time frames at this point are probably a little ambitious,” Liddle told the Seven television network on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Blues have requested to be an “assisted” club, allowing them to receive financial support from the AFL. They are not unlike other pro sports teams Down Under looking to get some financial assistance, with executives at the top levels of all sports taking pay cuts and many players doing the same.
The National Rugby League has the most ambitious plan to return, hoping to resume competition on May 28 but only in New South Wales state. That would force teams from outside of the state to stay away from their families for the duration of the season as they would not be able to return unless undergoing 14 days of quarantine.
The NRL didn’t get much support from Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday.
Morrison said the NRL won’t be given any “special arrangements” to start their season by the end of May, and warned against doing things too quickly.
“I like the ambition. I like they are trying to get the show back on the road in some way,” said Morrison, an avid rugby league fan. “It will be subject to health advice and there will be no special arrangements.”
Morrison’s comments cast serious doubt over the likelihood of the New Zealand Warriors being granted an exemption to enter Australia. The New Zealand club will need to fly into the country by next Thursday if NRL clubs are to fit in three weeks of training before the planned May 28 resumption.
Australian cricket is mostly in the off-season, but Cricket Australia announced last week that a planned two-test tour of Bangladesh in June was off.
Australia is scheduled to host the 16-team Twenty20 World Cup from Oct. 18 to Nov. 15, but former test captain Allan Border doesn’t think it can be held unless spectators are in the stands.
International travel restrictions and quarantine periods will represent a challenge if they remain in place come October, as is widely expected. Almost 6,400 Australians have caught the virus, with 61 deaths as of late Monday.
“I just can’t imagine playing at empty stadiums. It defies belief,” Border said. “Having teams, support staff and everyone else associated with the game wandering around the country, playing games of cricket, but you can’t let people into the grounds. I just can’t see it happening.
“It’s either you play it and everyone just gets on with the job and we’re past this pandemic. Or you try to fit it in somewhere else.”
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports