The elimination strategy. Maligned by some (mainly those in the Northern Hemisphere), celebrated by others (The Team Of Five Million TM Jacinda). Regardless of your perspective, it has given Australians and New Zealanders a sense of returning to normal, of hugging family and friends, catching up for a drink, and attending concerts and sporting fixtures.
Until, of course, the inevitable border breach and resulting outbreaks. The latest is Victoria, but we all know that we could be next. Victoria is the heartland of AFL, or Australian Rules Football. Somehow, through sheer will and determination, the AFL managed to hold a competition in 2020, by placing teams in interstate hubs, and foregoing the most sacred of traditions, an afternoon Grand Final at the mighty MCG on the last Saturday in September, instead hosting a night-time spectacle at the ‘Gabba in Brisbane.
This year was supposed to be different. We were coming out the other side of Covid. The vaccine was here, albeit with the rollout being slower than hoped for. All of the concessions made for season 2020, like shorter quarters and more interchange rotations, were discarded. Footy was back at its traditional best.
Then another Victorian outbreak and its predictable conclusion, a lockdown, arrived. And the AFL is left scrambling, trying to prevent that most unsatisfactory of outcomes, cancellation or postponement of the season. But its desire to become the pre-eminent oval ball code in Australia may well be its downfall. Because while AFL’s stronghold is in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, expansion has meant that there are two teams based in New South Wales, and another two in Queensland (but not in Tasmania – that’s a story for another day). This poses a problem as states impose border restrictions of varying severity on Victoria
As it stands today, Richmond are in Sydney, having played Adelaide at Giants Stadium last weekend, and the highlight of the Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round, Dreamtime at the ‘G, between Richmond and Essendon has been relocated to Perth, where it will no doubt be a spectacle, just not what tradition dictates. Ticket sales so far suggest over 50,000 fans will fill Optus Stadium. Top of the table Melbourne (a phrase many, many years in the making) are playing third placed Brisbane… in Sydney, and there’s still no word on where Adelaide will play Collingwood. Given the Magpies’ recent form, there may well be an argument for invoking a mercy rule to cancel the game altogether. Of course, if Victoria extends its lockdown, this carefully arranged plan will likely be thrown out the window.
What is different about Season 2021 of the AFL is that the players and support staff (who took a 30% pay cut, those who didn’t lose their jobs entirely) are unlikely to get behind being exiled interstate with an indeterminate end point. Footy, it turns out, isn’t everything.
Follow Kiwi Kali on Twitter