He said players wanted to find a way to play but many were also concerned about the potential mental health impact if they were locked away in an isolated quarantine hub for eight weeks at a time (and potentially for a period of 20 weeks under the worst-case scenario) among their peers – both teammates and opponents, as well as staff – without respite.
There was less concern about the efficacy of testing for COVID-19 although AFLPA boss Paul Marsh said it was vital that the procedures in place did not put the players or community at risk.
Marsh and Dangerfield said the players want to play and felt a deep sense of responsibility to play for both the community and the industry, which could lose $600 million if there is no football played.
“Our objective is to get [the concept] into a shape that all players will want to be a part of it,” Marsh said.
“This is their job and this is their livelihood. Players will want to play football but it has got to be in a way that is fair and reasonable.”
The main issue for players was the length of time they would be expected to spend inside hubs with many asking why they would need to be inside for an eight-week stretch.
Richmond captain Trent Cotchin is understood to have opposed spending a long stretch inside the hub, as did other senior players in the competition who made clear their opposition to the prospect of being inside a hub for 20 weeks.
Club sources were becoming increasingly sceptical on Thursday about hubs happening at all but the AFLPA’s discussions will centre on whether time inside the hub during the first phase – in which each team plays seven games in five weeks after a three-week pre-season training phase – could be reduced, or whether an alternative method was viable while adhering to government restrictions.
The AFL remains upset that the worst-case scenario was presented by the PA to the players with the shape of hubs dependent on Friday’s meeting of the national cabinet which will discuss guidelines being developed for elite sport to return to play. The AFL told football managers last Thursday they wanted to minimise the time players spent in hubs.
Any agreement to play in hubs would be short term with the players and the AFL wanting to keep their options open as governments continually update restrictions due to the coronavirus. The AFLPA is not expecting the AFL to know whether a second hub is required until they are midway through the first phase.
On Thursday, Marsh and Dangerfield told The Age:
- The AFLPA had only received one proposal from the AFL and had made it clear to the players when presenting it on Tuesday night that a change in government restrictions could lead to less of the season being played in hubs than was being presented.
- The chances of the AFLPA agreeing to 20 weeks inside hubs was “remote”.
- Phase one would be three weeks of pre-season and then seven games in five weeks before a one-week break, phase two would have nine games played in eight weeks, then finals will be held.
- The AFLPA position was that players should have the option of bringing families with them if they were inside hubs for eight weeks.
- The AFLPA had not yet agreed to the AFL’s proposal that 30-32 players from each club would enter the hub and it would be part of their negotiations.
- About 15-20 football department staff, such as coaches and medical staff, from each club would enter the hub.
- Players could only go in and out of hubs to train, play matches or due to a medical need. Players brought into hubs as a rotation would not be able to play immediately.
- The hub concept was not on the horizon when they renegotiated a pay deal with the AFL with Marsh saying he would be staggered if it was even in the AFL’s thinking then.
- The AFLPA had asked for the AFL’s position on whether players who chose not to enter a hub would be paid. “If we get to the position where there are players who don’t want to participate or can’t – and that is probably the more likely scenario rather than than don’t want to – then we will just have to find a way through that,” Marsh said.
- The mental health of players being quarantined inside a hub for an extended stretch was a concern and players were also worried about the mental health of partners and family at home looking after children.
- Dangerfield said the potential to lift the community’s spirits and save people’s jobs by playing was what “weighs on your shoulders as a player”.
- The AFLPA would meet each club as they quickly work towards a position for the AFL to consider ahead of May 11 when government policy around restrictions becomes clearer.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.
Peter Ryan is a sports reporter with The Age covering AFL, horse racing and other sports.