AFL players must make sacrifices

The AFL season could have a lifeline in ‘quarantine hubs’ around the country, and if the campaign is to get back underway, then the players will need to make sacrifices.

A friend of mine from Melbourne works on an offshore gas producing facility in the Indian Ocean.

To get to work he flies from Melbourne to Perth; then from Perth to Broome. From Broome it’s a two-and-a-half hour helicopter ride to the floating facility which actually looks like a huge ship.

He’s stuck on that enormous structure in the middle of nowhere for three to four weeks until his relief arrives.

If there is sickness or accident and his relief doesn’t arrive, he has to stay.

He doesn’t complain: it’s his job and he’s well paid – although not as much as most AFL footballers. Similarly, there are plenty of fly in/fly out workers employed in Australia who endure the hardships and separation from family and friends to ensure they keep their jobs.

If ever this AFL season gets off the ground again – and it is a big if – the players will have to make sacrifices.

Flying in to your workplace and being confined to limited space and facilities is nothing new but before the full details are known there are already rumblings of dissent and discontent from some players and the AFL Players Association.

The proposed plan of moving teams to designated hubs is gaining momentum. Of course all the necessary exemptions will have to be earned and granted but if this is a way of restoring season 2020 and getting football back on the television screens, it must be examined with all urgency.

The concept of developing “football hubs” where teams, their coaches and support staff can be sequestered in a controlled environment with adequate protection from the wider population is a brilliant one.

Of course the argument has been already made that football is not an essential service and footballers are not frontline emergency workers.

Fair enough but there are plenty of people already exposed in the workplace that could be categorised as non-essential.

The point is that sooner or later we will have to emerge from isolation.

For most of us that may not be until a vaccine for this insidious virus is developed which the experts tell us is 18 months away.

Are we really going to stay isolated for 18 more months; or with the appropriate social distancing and health protection conditions, could the wheels of normality slowly start to turn? Football can be a leader in this process.

The majority of footballers seem positive about being relocated to another state and city if that is one way of getting football back but it only takes a few to derail the concept. The objections have already been raised. So, if they don’t want to play, are they prepared to forego their salaries?

More specifically, are they prepared to be delisted! At the moment the AFL players are being paid a generous percentage of those salaries to stay home and wait out the worst of the pandemic.

They are essentially being paid to do nothing other than maintain a reasonable level of fitness. Their coaches, support staff and club administration staff have been laid off with no income. If footy season can eventually resume, albeit in this shortened form, they will receive 70 per cent of those huge salaries.

They may never know the suffering that so many other Australians have had to endure.

Adelaide is one of the projected “football hubs”.

Teams will fly in on chartered flights. They will be isolated in five-star accommodation, travel to their training and playing venues in special buses, and play in empty stadiums. If they are disciplined they will not come into contact with the broader public.

And given that the 17 rounds of a football season will be crammed into 11 or 12 weeks, there will be little time for anything else.

However the complaints are coming from more senior players with families. Of course it’s tough being away from wives, partners and kids, but it’s not forever.

Another option has been put forward where partners and children could join the players in their isolated environments, but clearly that would not work.

The more people coming in and out of an isolated environment, the more likely the chance of further infection.

The size of the groups has to be kept to a minimum. Besides, as if these past weeks haven’t been difficult having all the kids home under the one roof, try doing it in a hotel room.

There are plenty of international sportspeople who ply their professions without taking their families. The weeks may stretch into months, but it’s not forever.

Our military personnel have tours of duties in some of the most forsaken places on earth leaving family behind. It’s understandable that nothing comes before partners and children but when duty calls, separation is sometimes unavoidable.

AFL great, Dermott Brereton this week, strongly defended AFLPA president Patrick Dangerfield who has been the public face of the players’ grievances.

Fair enough because Dangerfield, as well as being a great player, is a good man (apart from that time he left the Crows) but it’s hard for the average footy supporter to distance Dangerfield from the players’ grievances and their position of privilege.

The AFL will not ignore public health advice but as the government is about to announce strategies to ease social restrictions it’s reasonable to assume that there will be an opportunity for the AFL season to resume.

The AFL players, having alienated the football public with their initial resistance to taking a pay cut, risk further condemnation by resisting a sensible, workable plan to restart the 2020 footy season.

Source: Graham Cornes – The Advertiser

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