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Fans maintain social distance from AFL

Here, winter is all too plainly upon us, the season of bugs, making medical authorities apprehensive about a resurgence. Further, athletes generally are more vulnerable to coronavirus because strenuous exercise prompts them to inhale more often and deeply.

This is not speculation. It is from immunologists in Europe and scientists here, speaking in the past 48 hours. It is the science.

The AFL, keen to get cracking, but responsibly, plans to sequester teams in hubs for weeks at a time. Unexpectedly, the players are hesitant. Some worry for themselves, some for their cut-off families. Some, those with young children for instance, may choose not to play at all.

Predictably, this draws scorn from other athletes for whom long absences from home are unavoidable. But this is 2020, not 1970. We’re more holistic now, surely? Footy keeps telling us it is.

Then there are support staff, generally older and even more likely to have and miss family. On SEN on Wednesday, Collingwood coach Nathan Buckley said the AFL had to ask itself if all this physical and emotional dislocation was worth it for the sake of what would in any case be an emasculated season.

Of course, the AFL could expand the bubble to include a loved one for each inmate, as sought by the players. Then it would begin to look not so much like a hub as a hubbub. It would defeat the purpose.

Whose need are we looking to serve here anyway? Some players? Certainly. Clubs, the league and the broadcasters? Yes, because all will sink or swim together. But banks have eased the immediate existential threat.

The gratification of fans, and perhaps their mental health, too? Bread and circuses and takeaways? What would we not all give for a fix of footy on the box?

Or would we? Research released by True North on Wednesday suggests less than 40 per cent of fans across all major sports think there should be a resumption. When filtered to count only dedicated fans of each sport, still fewer than half in any sport favour a restart. It is a surprisingly sanguine finding.

Though not specified, this can only mean that they are prepared to sacrifice a bit now for the sake of the much greater good. They’re prepared to practise social distancing even from footy until all is safe again. That is, all in good time.

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