AFL handles COVID issues faster than the virus can spread

Optus Stadium lies empty as Fremantle hosts North Melbourne
Optus Stadium lies empty as Fremantle hosts North Melbourne. Credit: AFL.com.au

Last season, the AFL was widely praised for its flexibility and ability to adjust the schedule on the fly.

As COVID-19 concerns changed, often by the hour, the AFL showed that it was able to adjust its men’s competition and do whatever was needed to ensure that the season went ahead with no further issues.

Just because 2020 is in the rear-view mirror, doesn’t mean that the AFL hasn’t maintained its flexibility.

So far this season, eight clubs have been affected by a lockdown, or a quarantine requirement, and have had to adjust on the fly.

It started as early as the aftermath of Round 1, as Brisbane went into lockdown the Lions flew down to Geelong to face the Cats in Round 2. Spectators were asked to leave if they had flown down from Brisbane, and the Lions three day trip became a three week trip.

Their Good Friday eve clash with Collingwood was transplanted from the Gabba to Marvel Stadium, as the AFL adjusted on the fly.

At the same time, the Swans, who had played in Brisbane in Round 1, were forced to take a COVID test, and ensure that they were ok to travel.

The issues weren’t isolated though.

With the recent lockdown in Western Australia, North Melbourne were forced to take on Fremantle at an empty Optus Stadium, in scenes reminiscent of last year. North Melbourne will now be required to isolate at home for 14 days, with exemptions for training and match-day next weekend.

West Coast were granted permission to fly into the state of lockdown after their loss to Geelong over the weekend.

Nobody is yet sure how the Tasmanian government will react, as North Melbourne is scheduled to take on Melbourne there next week, despite being in their isolation period.

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But the AFL has shown that after last year, it takes a lot more than that to ruffle the feathers.

The fixture has remained flexible, with the timing of games announced in small blocks.

One club Commercial Manager noted that the changes have been made even more difficult with the staffing reductions over the past 12 months.

She noted that the rolling fixture meant that the club was focussed on ensuring that they were agile, and able to respond from a member and commercial perspective to any of the curveballs thrown at them by government restrictions, fixture changes, or crowd changes.

While no doubt club and league officials are looking forward to the return to stability, and a simple long-term forecast, the AFL have shown the leadership and flexibility to adapt to all manner of challenges thrown at them.

The clubs, the players, and the league itself have all been willing and able to make massive sacrifices over the past 12 months, paying out of their pockets, by way of lost staff, moving to hubs, living under a strict health protocol, the list of sacrifices goes on.

And while there are many uncertainties and questions, there remains a key fact underpinning it all. The AFL is ready to take on any and all challenges thrown its way, and will come out the other side.

And in the meantime, they will look forward to the return of full crowds, and a rolling schedule to allow for all the flexibility necessary.

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