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I'm A Superfan But Last Night Showed The AFL Should Cancel The Season

Well, that was weird. And uncomfortable.

I was already amazed earlier in the week when the league decided to play on despite the fact we happen to be in the midst of a global pandemic.

But amazement turned to astonishment when 2020 season kicked off at the MCG on Thursday night with the traditional curtain raiser between Richmond and Carlton -- this time, in front of an empty fortress.

It echoed. It was haunting. It was not only empty, it was eerie. You could hear every verbal exchange between the players and umpires -- which was welcomed by many.

But it felt wrong. It felt like we, as a nation, had just turned a blind eye to one of the most serious health crises the modern world has faced.

I was too distracted by a sense of impending doom that the 100,000 empty seats projected to actually absorb the usual season opening sacrifice of the Blues as they were steamrolled once again by the reigning premiers.

It's no surprise the majority of fans weren't too pleased either, many arguing the AFL should have postponed the season, waited until the calamity was over before charging ahead -- all it took was cutting into a chunk of the next cricket season. No big deal.

One bloke on Twitter managed to maintain his humour at least, asking his wife to charge him $12 for a beer and $8 for hot chips "just to feel normal again".

But the harsh truth is, the coronavirus is only going to get worse before it gets better and in all honesty it's only a matter of time before it lurks its way into the AFL, sparking hasty cancellations and shutting down the sport indefinitely.

Just today the AFL declared it would shut down the league for 30 days if a player tests positive.

"I told you so," the fans will murmur.

Like many other countries Australia is moving toward isolation because we need it. But the AFL isn't listening. Actually, not just the AFL, but Australian sport in general.

The NRL is going ahead with no crowds while the A-League is also progressing, albeit with a condensed fixture list that will almost entirely be played out on the east coast.

In many nations Covid-19 seems to have helped them acknowledge that sport is not the be-all and -end-all. Many other sports have already sat their asses on the pine. First it was cricket, then it was other football codes, followed by the netball and all local footy leagues, including my own. It hurts, but it's right.

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Even the NBA halted play almost immediately because they, as a leading sports organisation, recognised the urgency, that this is more serious than a measly game.

Sport seems trivial now.

But not trivial enough that the AFL felt the need to suspend play.

As you can imagine the AFL's decision was met with condemnation and fury. How can the league honestly believe it can quarantine itself from a deadly virus? And what does it say about its priorities?

Sure if players get a cold or flu, or stomach bug, they are isolated from their teammates as part of current protocol. But Covid-19 is an entirely different beast, a beast we can't prevent with medication (yet).

It was eerie. It was haunting. It just didn't feel right. Image: AAP

Scott Morrison had left it up to the AFL to make a decision for themselves. The league then enlisted chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, to join them for a crucial meeting to decide the fate of the season, AFL chief Gillon McLachlan declared.

The AFL made then made the call to look after themselves. I wanted to believe that the AFL didn't have a sense of self-entitlement.

But no.

When my beloved Blue boys made their way through the race onto an empty MCG, I too felt empty.

I don't buy into the notion that Australians need something to take our mind off the horror that has swept the globe. People are dying and losing their livelihoods.

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I appreciate the weight that sat on the shoulders of the AFL's decision makers. It can't have been easy but maybe it should have been, especially if fans -- who are arguably more important than the players -- are crying out for common sense.

The sheer emptiness of the MCG cannot be unseen. It beamed through my television last night, penetrating my soul with darkness and doom.

If the world was not so saturated in terrifying coronavirus noise, I would always argue that footy is better than no footy. But footy is not bigger than life or death.

For now I'll be here, watching the crowd-less season play out and wondering how the umpires will know when to call holding the ball.

Featured image: AAP/Michael Dodge

Contact the author: elyons@networkten.com.au