Coronavirus: Australian Rules, National Rugby League to play on despite virus threat

SYDNEY (AFP) – The Australian Rules season will begin on Thursday (March 19) as scheduled after administrators joined the National Rugby League (NRL) in refusing to cancel games because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Australian Football League (AFL) said matches would be played without crowds and the number of regular-season rounds cut from 23 to 17, with the playing time of games also reduced slightly.

“The reality is that this season will not look like any other… but footy is resilient and footy will find a way,” AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan told reporters late on Wednesday of the hugely popular sport.

The NRL is also pressing ahead with its season after clubs and the players’ association unanimously backed the move.

“All 16 clubs have reaffirmed their support for the NRL’s decision to continuing playing matches behind closed doors during the global coronavirus pandemic,” official website reported.

Other major sporting codes in Australia have cancelled or suspended their activities because of the outbreak, including cricket, rugby union and basketball.

Football’s A-League plans to go ahead without crowds.

The AFL season will kick off on Thursday when defending champions Richmond meet Carlton at an empty Melbourne Cricket Ground, while round two of the NRL begins when Canterbury Bulldogs play North Queensland Cowboys in Sydney on the same night.

Nathan Buckley, coach of AFL team Collingwood, said sport could play a crucial role in lifting spirits during the virus crisis.

“Maybe we provide a little bit more normality,” he said.

But former player Brendan Fevola questioned why the season was going ahead when society as a whole was dealing with unprecedented restrictions on travel and public gatherings.

“I don’t know who they think they are… the AFL has to make money for TV rights but it’s not all about money all the time. Just cancel it,” he said.

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