Contributed by: Wesley Hull Saturday, May 16 2020 @ 08:48 am ACST
The following is the official AFL statement, released on the www.afl.com.au[*1] website regarding the season restart date and the conditions around the restart on and off the field. This positive move will also be the catalyst for footy returning at all levels – grassroots through to nation and eventually international.
The AFL has today announced that clubs will return to training on Monday, May 18 and the 2020 Toyota AFL Premiership season will resume on Thursday, June 11.
Players and football department officials will return to clubs on Monday, with clubs completing a 3.5 week training block before matches officially restart.
Clubs will initially train in maximum groups of eight, before resuming full contact training from Monday, May 25.
All players and returning football department staff will have been tested for Covid-19 prior to returning to the club and undergone education sessions on the protocols they will need to follow, including rigorous ongoing screening and regular testing, throughout both the training and return to play period. This will also apply for umpires and AFL Match day staff once the season resumes.
Strict protocols will be in place to protect players, officials, staff and the wider public with all involved in the game regularly tested ahead of any contact sessions or matches.
“Today is a significant step in getting footy back for everyone - our fans, our clubs, players, coaches, umpires, officials and staff, our broadcast and corporate partners and club partners and all who love the game,” AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan said.
“We know as this situation continues to evolve, we have to remain agile and flexible to be able to adapt where necessary while ensuring we continue to prioritise the health and welfare of our players, staff and the wider community and - importantly - don’t place any burden on the public health system.
"We have developed our model as the best option for returning to play for both players and officials and the general public and have done so following extensive consultation, including with the Federal, State and Territory Governments and Chief Health Officers.
“I want to thank the Prime Minister, the various ministers, State Premiers and Chief Ministers and all the Chief Health Officers for their on-going support and guidance.
"I particularly want to acknowledge the Victorian, NSW and Queensland Governments for their support in leading the way for football to return."
“All through this evolving pandemic we have anchored every decision in-line with the advice of the respective government and relevant medical authorities. Our return to play plans and our timings is evidence of that.
“Our industry understands the opportunity we have been given and we also fully understand and accept our responsibility to our football family and to the wider community.”
In order to maintain flexibility and given that some states still have restrictions in place, the AFL will release the remaining 144 games plus finals of 2020 Toyota AFL Premiership fixture in blocks of up to 4-6 weeks.
The first block of games will be released over the next 10 days with games in the early part of the season being scheduled at AFL venues in states that have approved full-contact training and matches.
The Return to Play model will see all teams based out of their home state with the exception of the Western Australian teams West Coast Eagles and Fremantle, and South Australian teams Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide.
West Coast Eagles and Fremantle will complete the pre-season training block at their home bases before relocating interstate ahead of their first scheduled match while current restrictions in SA will mean that Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide will need to relocate interstate before May 25 when full contact training will begin for all 18 clubs.
West Coast Eagles, Fremantle, Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide will all relocate to the Gold Coast.
The move has been made possible with the support of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Tourism Minister Kate Jones and the Queensland Government’s strong health response. The AFL also acknowledges the support of the Gold Coast City Council and Mayor Tom Tate.
All four clubs will be based interstate for an initial period of at least four weeks and the AFL will continue to remain flexible with fixturing so it can respond to any changes to restrictions in either state.
The four clubs will be housed in accommodation villages - West Coast Eagles and Fremantle at The Pines Resort and Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide at the Mercure Resort. Players will be able to host family members at any stage during their time away from home which will be funded by the AFL.
The AFL has agreed with the players it will continually review the arrangements in consultation with the AFLPA, clubs and the WA and SA Governments.
“We recognise the great collaboration and understanding with our WA and SA clubs and their support for ensuring we get a full national competition underway. We know we are going to need to retain maximum flexibility with the fixture to allow for home games in each state should circumstances change.” Mr McLachlan said.
The AFL said the Return to Play model was the best possible response based on the different restrictions in each state and territory and the overwhelming priority to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved in football as well as the wider community, while seeking to minimise the impact on players, officials and their families.
The AFL hopes to play games in most states and territories but will continue to maintain an agile and flexible fixture to take account of any changes to restrictions in each respective jurisdiction.
“I am confident that how we start won’t necessarily be how we finish and that as the situation changes around the country we have the flexibility, agility and industry collaboration to change where we need to,” Mr McLachlan said.
All future decisions on location of matches will be made in consultation with Federal, State and Territory Governments and their respective Chief Health Officers.
The AFL will implement protocols over and above the government restrictions to protect the health and safety of every member of our industry and the wider community.
The protocols have been developed with the advice of the Federal, State and Territory Governments along with the relevant Chief Health Officers across the country as well as the AFL’s own medical team and with consultation with players, coaches and clubs.
The protocols, which are in addition to the restrictions set out by the Federal, State and Territory Governments, cover the protection of players, officials and staff across training, travel and matches as well as the restrictions in place away from the club.
Protocols have applied to AFL players since the season was suspended at the conclusion of round one.
Players received daily health screens and were tested if showing any potential symptoms. No player on an AFL list has tested positive to the virus in that time.
Key points of the protocols, which have been agreed to by the AFLPA, include:
All testing of personnel under this protocol will be AFL-funded and conducted independently from the public health system to not place any burden on its resources. It will be subject to modification at any time according to the public health circumstances in the community.
Players and officials will be temperature screened every single time before they enter club facilities and will be tested twice a week - ahead of contact training and matches - using PCR testing conducted by pathology provider Dorevitch.
Players will train in consistent small groups (< 8 people) and when contact training is allowed, will still train in consistent small groups except for the main contact sessions each week.
Players and Club staff to be tested within 24 hrs of main contact sessions and all players and officials, including umpires and key AFL match officials, taking part in matches will be tested approx. 24 hours ahead of games.
Protocols on the movements of players, coaches and staff outside of training and matches to continue to be restricted, with contact with the public, outside of their immediate families, to be minimised.
Strict limitations on anyone outside of players and nominated Football Department staff from entering football areas or rooms at any stage, including on match days. Only essential and tested AFL match day staff will be present on match day.
"We are confident that with the resilience measures, processes and protocols we currently have in place and the constantly revised measures we will continue to instil, we have a system in place to protect players, staff, the community and the competition,” Mr McLachlan said.
The AFL will continue to consult closely with Federal and State Governments along with the relevant Chief Health Officers across the country to continue to refine the protocols and ensure the best practices are being adhered to. The AFL and the clubs are committed to compliance with all standards and know these may change at different stages.
Following an AFL Commission meeting on Monday, the protocols are deemed to be part of the AFL rules with any breach of the rules deemed to be conduct unbecoming and will be dealt with in accordance with the AFL rules and an agreed framework between the AFL and AFLPA.
The AFL has also consulted with the Defence Department, BHP and Chef de Mission for the Paralympics in setting up protocols to provide support for those players who have to move away from home and their families as well as support protocols for those families who will join the players.
Mr McLachlan said the Project Return group had examined many structures before settling on the Return to Play model and the AFL had anchored its decisions in prioritising the health and welfare of the industry and the wider community as well as protecting the integrity of the competition.
He thanked members and fans for their patience and their commitment and the clubs for their ongoing collaboration and support.
“There has been an extraordinary amount of work and collaboration across the football industry, from clubs, players, coaches, our AFL team, the AFLPA, broadcast and commercial partners, governments and venues to come up with the best possible model in these circumstances while ensuring health and safety was the key priority.
“We have the best fans in sports, they have been patient and committed during this time. We understand our responsibility to both them and the wider community, and hopefully with footy returning they can get some normality back in their lives and cheer their teams on.
“The return of footy doesn’t mean the work is complete. We must continue to follow the advice of the government and medical authorities and continue to play our role in helping to flatten the curve, and we encourage everyone to download the Covid-Safe app on your phone.”