But the players, who were surveyed by the AFL Players’ Association on Monday night, signalled a willingness to accept the AFL’s radical re-shaping of the fixture and the highly flexible arrangements – including shortened breaks between games, expanded playing lists (via a mini-draft) to help with shortened turnarounds and shorter quarters – to help the competition deal with an unprecedented crisis.
While keen to play on and most wanting the longer season, players also are broadly aware of the serious nature of coronavirus for the community- having been briefed by their clubs – and accepting of the need for changes to the competition and their own protocols.
Clubs are set to embark upon major cost-cutting of their budgets, in response to the reality that there will be no crowds – assuming the season still goes ahead as planned, starting Thursday night in an empty MCG where Richmond will host Carlton.
The clubs’ financial position, clearly, would be far easier if the players agreed to the proposed pay cut.
Under their deal with the AFL, the players are entitled to 28 per cent of all AFL revenue, based on the forecast for the 2020 season, plus a further 28 per cent of the income that exceeds that forecast – the latter outcome being highly improbable now. There could be legal argument about what happens in the event of the revenue being drastically reduced, but the players are under heavy moral pressure to accept pay cuts given the financial position of clubs without crowds and in the anticipated event of games being cancelled.
The AFLPA board met very late on Monday night, immediately after the players had completed their survey, with talks set to continue Tuesday between the union’s leadership and the AFL.
Melbourne captain Max Gawn joked about the situation on RSN radio on Tuesday morning.
“What we’re going to do is we’re going to corner [big-money recruits] Steven May and Jake Lever and just obviously show them the amount of games they’ve played since they’ve got their money,” Gawn said about the injury-hit pair.
“And we’ll hope they’ll be able to help out a few of the younger boys. I think that’s what we’re going to do.”
Gawn, who said he had been “thrown in the deep end pretty early” into his captaincy with the game, and the world, in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, said “I just want to play footy” despite the potential risks involved.
“From all reports, all 45 guys that we have obviously have health concerns but are understanding is that footy is the answer at the moment,” Gawn said.
“So round one, we want to go ahead and that’s what I expressed to the PA [AFL Players’ Association] yesterday.
“There’s no one holding back from a Melbourne point of view.”
with Ronny Lerner
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.