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McLachlan, Sewell, Tones and I, Sewell and Kelly
Gillon McLachlan, 2019 Grand Final

Just hours before the end of round one, the AFL announced the season will postponed until at least the end of May due to the decision of several state governments to impose restrictions on travel due to the COVID-19 virus. The postponement will be reviewed at the end of April. The AFLW season, which just finished the semi-finals, has been completely canceled with no premiership awarded. The league did go ahead with the West Coast vs Melbourne match, the last of the round, which had yet to get underway. In a statement, CEO Gil McLachlan said, "...  this is the most serious threat to our game in 100 years ... It is unprecedented in the impact it is having on our game and the wider community ... we all need to take the unprecedented and required actions to get through this ... everyone involved in our game and our millions of supporters will be impacted ... and that many people will suffer significant hardship as are people right across the community but I also know that we all have a responsibility to the community and each other."

After Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the latest series of drastic measures on Sunday morning,

including the banning of non-essential travel, and the endorsement of the states issuing their own border shutdowns, many AFL clubs felt the season had to be stopped. There remains a commitment to play the remaining 16 rounds and 144 matches of the already shortened 2020 season. AFL Players Association (AFLPA) CEO Paul Marsh is optimistic that the season will resume but said the decision to postpone was the correct one. Many players who are out of state (from where they play) will be allowed to return home during the shutdown. Tasmania was the first state to announce border shutdown on March 19, followed by Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia shutting their borders from March 24, and Queensland from March 25. Anyone entering those states will be forced into a two-week isolation period.

The postponement of the AFL season forced the League and all 18 clubs into drastic action to reduce their expenses. They had to lay off hundreds of staff, including all assistant coaches, as well as people working in administration, football, membership and recruiting departments, with remaining staff working on reduced wages. There are fears that some staff members who are laid off may lose their jobs altogether when the reason resumes. Carlton reluctantly ended its 19-year association with the Northern Blues, causing the VFL club, based at Preston in Melbourne's north, to close after 138 years. The Northern Blues began as Preston Football Club in 1882 and entered the then Victorian Football Association (VFA) in 1903, winning six VFA/VFL flags (the most recent in 1984), before becoming the Northern Bullants in 1999 and entering an affiliation with Carlton at the end of 2002 season. Current Carlton Coach David Teague began his coaching career at the Bullants, taking the club to the VFL Grand Final in 2009 and 2010. In a statement, Carlton Chief Executive Cain Liddle said, "Northern have been part of the Carlton family for the last 19 years ...This is an extremely sad day for so many involved but Northern will always have a special place in the history of the Carlton Football Club … We are currently working with Northern Blues players to ensure they have access to ongoing support and resources. Should the VFL season go ahead, Carlton will be offered the opportunity to enter a team of our own and we would obviously be leaning heavily on existing Northern Blues players to complement our listed players."

With no footy to play for the next two months, the AFL wanted the players to agree to a pay cut. The AFLPA initially offered a 50 per cent pay cut to May 31, but McLachlan refused the offer, asking the players to take a 79 per cent cut for the next seven months. The standoff on the pay cut led to AFL great Leigh Matthews to say on the Sportsday radio show on March 24 that he had lost respect for the collective playing group. Dual Premiership Tiger Jack Riewoldt rebutted Matthews' comments, telling Fox Footy's AFL 360 that night that Matthews's comments were "irresponsible" and "really disappointing". Riewoldt said players did not want to make a decision on their pay beyond the current shutdown period, and players had been willing to push through a full 22-match season to shore up money for the whole game.

After four days of talks between the League and the AFLPA, the two parties reached a deal on March 27, in which the players will lose 50 per cent of their wages over the next eight weeks. The pay cut will increase to 70 per cent if the season is delayed beyond May 31, but will stay at 50 per cent if matches have recommenced by May 31. As well, the players have had their pension payments held over during this season and they have also lost the League's contribution of A$2.4 million (US$1.48 million) to fund the AFLPA's operations for 2020. The pay cut deal allows the AFL to show their cost savings before National Australia Bank (one of the AFL's major sponsors) and ANZ Bank grant a line of credit to the league. That credit will probably reach A$600 million (US$370 million) to help the AFL survive its greatest financial crisis in history. (Ed. note: the line of credit was granted on March 30th and believed to be at least A$500 million.)

Source: afl.com.au, The Age, abc.net.au

Article last changed on Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 10:32 AM EDT


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