Round 1 Coronavirus update

UPDATE 13-Mar, 4pm - Round 1 expected to go ahead, with games to be played behind closed doors. Public gatherings of more than 500 people has been banned by the Federal government.

The spread of coronavirus is one of the most disruptive societal issues we've faced in generations. Even the SARS outbreak from China last decade didn't have as big an impact as the COVID-19 virus has already had.

Despite the risks of transmission throughout the community, until this morning, the AFL appeared to proceed with Round 1 as planned, apparently at almost any cost. It's an unbelievable situation, that continues to evolve not just every day, but every hour, and almost inconceivable given the significant steps major leagues throughout the world have taken to protect spectators, staff and players.

Sports around the world have been postponed or canceled, most notably the La Liga, Champions League, Serie A, NBA, NHL, MLB, MLS and the Formula 1. With the announcement of the F1 cancelling the Australian GP, with the Vietnamese GP already in danger, and the Chinese GP canceled, it's arguably the highest profile sport to be impacted by the virus.

Like the AFL and NRL, the English Premier League (EPL) didn't have a contingency plan in place for any club staff, players or spectators becoming infected, or transmitting the virus during training or matches. Mikel Arteta, Arsenal's newest manager, has contracted the virus and has been isolated from his team, while Arsenal's facilities have been placed in isolation. Despite that, ignoring international advice and clear evidence of community transmission, the EPL leadership has declared the games will go ahead this weekend with fans in attendance.

England's top football league made the decision, based on information and guidance from their Prime Minister and Chief Medical Advisor, that cancelations were unnecessary. How they came to that conclusion defies all logic, given most developed countries have banned public gatherings. The latest medical advice from Australia's Chief Medical Advisor is to ban gatherings of more than 500 people, effectively forcing all sports events to be canceled, postponed or played behind closed doors.

Even with the AFL adamant to continue with Round 1 plans, contrary to medical advice, it appears likely that the state and federal governments will make the decision for them, almost certainly playing Round 1 matches in empty stadiums. It's a better situation than the postponement of the season, but there are those that would argue that if they're not playing, it doesn't cost them, especially the clubs that traditionally struggle to break even during the season.

Meetings will be held throughout Friday to determine the best course of action, with no communication to clubs, broadcasters or the AFLPA yet, but it is expected that the AFL will be forced to play Round 1 behind closed doors. Postponing the season will almost certainly reduce the length of the season and have dire financial impact for clubs that rely on the revenue generated from matches, but this will be offset by the AFL, who've publicly said that they will help clubs.

The AFL has taken steps to limit close interactions between players and the media amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

Safety measures for players and media have already been introduced as of Thursday night. Media will still be granted access to players and club staff, but it will look very different to last season, with exclusion zones around players enforced among other measures.

Radio and newspaper interviews will be conducted over the phone, door-stop interviews and airport press conferences, have been outlawed for the time being. There will be a 2 metre space between the media and players at press conferences during the week, while post-match conferences will be conducted over a shortened window of time, and radio partners and journalists won't have access to the change rooms.

While the Formula 1 event was canceled, forced by the FIA after McLaren withdrew from the event, the Victorian government's recommendation was that the event should go ahead but without spectators. Even with Victoria's Chief Medical Advisor recommending a course of action, there's no guarantee that the AFL, or other states would follow suit, leaving the AFL with a decision to play some games with crowds, and others without.

A VFL practice match between Richmond and Coburg has been abandoned due to health and safety concerns over the coronavirus. Players in the league have been instructed not to return to their local clubs to train during the week. There are also question marks over whether the next round of the AFLW should continue as is. According to Gerard Whateley of AFL360, it's expected that the AFLW will continue as normal, including fans in attendance.

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Justin Mitchell

Justin is a passionate AFL and Sydney Swans supporter, and football blogger since 2016. All articles are of his own opinion. You can reach him by twitter and Facebook at @theswansblog

Melbourne, Australia

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