AFL Announces Return Date In Less Than A Month
The AFL will resume in mid-June, joining the NRL as the first major Australian sporting codes to return after coronavirus shutdowns.
The bosses of the 18 AFL clubs were informed of the final decision in a phone call on Friday morning, before league CEO Gillon McLachlan confirmed the news in an afternoon press conference.
"All players are undergoing 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," McLachlan said.
"This will also apply for umpires and key AFL match-day staff once the season resumes."
He said the league would follow rules "over and beyond" what government has mandated.
"We need to ensure we continue to prioritise the health and welfare of everyone. Importantly, we must not place any burden on the public health system," McLachlan said, adding that the league encouraged people to download the COVIDSafe tracing app.
The new playing schedule won't be released until next week, with McLachlan saying the fixtures "will be released over the next 10 days."
Collingwood star Mason Cox welcomed the news on Twitter.
McLachlan said all teams besides those in South Australia and Western Australia would be allowed to stay and train in their home cities. Adelaide, Port Adelaide, West Coast and Fremantle will all leave their home bases and relocate to the Gold Coast.
"Players will be able to host family members at any stage during the time away from home, which will be funded by the AFL," McLachlan said.
The AFL's timetable will see the competition resume just two weeks after the National Rugby League plans to restart its season on May 28. The NRL is also expected to announce further details of its relaunch on Friday.
McLachlan had earlier confirmed clubs will resume modified training on Monday.
The competition was suspended on March 22 amid the COVID-19 pandemic after just one completed round.
Players will resume modified training on Monday before stepping up into full contact drills on May 25, McLachlan confirmed.
"Every club will be training out of its home base in their home states for a week," he told 3AW.
"We'll be able to go to contact training twice a week after (COVID-19) testing from the 25th of May.
"It will be training for a few weeks, enough to make sure the players, clubs and coaches have the right body of work to play matches without significant risk of injury."
It follows weeks of negotiations between the league, state governments and health officials around steps towards the return of the AFL season, which was put on hold because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Existing restrictions in Western Australia and South Australia have dictated that West Coast, Fremantle, Adelaide and Port Adelaide will temporarily relocate to Queensland hubs.
SA clubs will be in their Gold Coast-based hubs before May 25 because of their home state's refusal to grant them special training exemptions from current restrictions.
The temporary relocations mean the WA and SA clubs will be at what Port Adelaide chairman David Koch described as a "significant disadvantage".
But with those states' restrictions in place and a desire from the AFL to play the remaining 144 matches as soon as possible, there are few other realistic options available.
West Coast captain Luke Shuey said his club was prepared to do what they had to for the sake of the competition.
"We realise we're going to have to travel at some stage and be away for a certain amount of time," Shuey told Fox Footy.
"Fortunately for us we're used to travelling, albeit not for up to four or five or six weeks."
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