AFL shortens season, NRL forges ahead: How coronavirus is impacting sports

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 17 March 2020

The AFL will shorten its season this year, while the NRL plans to push ahead amid uncertainty due to coronavirus.

Both codes will play in front of empty stadiums, following the government’s recommendation against crowds of 500 as the nation tries to slow the spread of COVID-19, known as coronavirus.

In response to the pandemic, the AFL will cut its 2020 Toyota AFL Premiership season to a maximum of 17 from 23 rounds, with each team facing off just once.

The first round, scheduled for March 19, will go ahead as planned but remaining rounds will be adjusted.

“This is - and will be - a difficult time for the whole of the Australian public,” says AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan.

“The main game is looking after the community and keeping people safe and that is the clear priority for everyone at the moment. For football families like all families.

“At the moment we know there is a lot of uncertainty but one thing we know is we will get a season away. The circumstances mean it will look different, but our commitment is for it to be fair.

“The reality is, we don't have all the answers at the moment.”

The shortened season could be a hit to Seven, which alongside Foxtel and Telstra struck a $2.5 billion broadcast rights deal for the games in 2017 set to expire in 2022. The struggling TV network could also be impacted should the Olympics be postponed due to coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the NRL, which has broadcast partners Nine, Fox Sports and Telstra, is also facing uncertainty following round one.

However, CEO Todd Greenberg says the NRL plans to complete the entire season, with multiple contingency plans considered to keep the competition going should clubs be put into lockdown due to coronavirus.

“We’ve worked through multiple scenarios if we lose a club or a game and how we might pick that up over the course of the year,” Greenberg says.

"We’ve modelled some of those things – again we’re hoping we don’t get to it – but they’re scenarios that we’ve tested because we want to try and keep the games on as best we can."

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