As virus curve flattens, first light shines on AFL return
Recent declines in coronavirus infection rates have sparked growing optimism that AFL footy could return with a 17-game season as early as July.
While the AFL hasn't locked into a resumption date - unlike the NRL, which has earmarked May 28 - Australia's world-leading flattening of the infection curve has created a belief in government and among clubs that the game could be on the way back.
Informal talks have been held between the AFL and the government about a resumption, which would depend on COVID-19 infection rates continuing to fall.
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Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, acknowledged it was "logical" that if the coronavirus curve continued to flatten, the AFL and others could start preparing to resume.
"We don't have training and we don't have matches and we keep social distancing, which is the object of not having sporting events," Dr Coatsworth said.
"We do understand though, of course, that sport is a major part of the Australian psyche, so … as we see this curve flattening, it's logical that it's coming up as one of the first things that we (will) need to address."
Insiders have been buoyed by the fact no AFL players have contracted coronavirus and there is a growing view in the state and federal governments that a return of football on TV but without fans at the games, would help us stick to tough lockdowns for longer.
But several medical hurdles need to be cleared before elite sports are cleared to resume.
Victoria's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Annaleise van Diemen, stressed it was still too early to anticipate restrictions being lifted.
Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett and Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale were "cautiously" optimistic about a resumption in July or August if the flattening of the curve continues.
"I am supportive of the way the AFL is handling this and they are going to review it at the end of April," Kennett said.
"I think we can be optimistic in the second half of the year we will get in our other 16 games and our finals, unless something goes terribly astray or we have a second spike … that's my own view."
Gale said the community could play a role in getting football back by sticking to social-distancing rules.
"I think that hastens the resumption of everything," Gale said.
"A couple of weeks ago (a possible July return) might have seemed optimistic.
"But if that were the case, I think that would be a tremendous outcome."
Western Bulldogs president Peter Gordon, part of the AFL's "war cabinet", said he was hopeful the league would fit in 17 rounds, playing into "September and probably October".
Active COVID-19 Cases in VICSource: Vic DHSS
"The most important thing is the health of the community and complying with the government's directions in relation to keeping the community safe and our fans and people," Gordon said.
"But we also recognise it (footy) plays a big part in people's health and well being.
"There's a lot of reasons to get back to it when we can, but we're not going to do anything outside of what the government's telling us to do."
An AFL spokesman said: "The main game for the AFL - like all organisations around the country - is to play our role in helping the community flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19, to reduce the impact on our hospital facilities and the medical system.
"We know the supporters are missing our game, but we have said all along that our season won't resume until it is safe for both the people involved in our game and the wider community,'' he said.
"We will continue to work with the federal, state and territory governments and the chief medical officers, and rely on their advice on when the time is right for us to return."
The AFL has been working with its broadcasters about how to stage the remaining 16 rounds in a compacted form, which could include matches played from Thursday through to Monday nights.
Originally published as As virus curve flattens, first light shines on AFL return