One source described the message, though not Hocking’s language, as: “We don’t want anyone to f— it up.”
The importance was underlined by Brisbane Lions CEO Greg Swann, who told 3AW on Wednesday night any player breaching protocols should be suspended for 10 weeks.
The AFL now believes that a start earlier than late June – the date that it had thought probable – is achievable, depending on when full training is resumed by clubs, which will need three weeks of full training before they can play.
The warning around players in particular adhering to the AFL new protocols – essentially safety measures to prevent the infection and spread of the coronavirus – was made in the knowledge that the AFL was relying on strong government support to play games.
There is an understanding among the clubs that their return to play involves granting of privileges ahead of other parts of the community.
The edict delivered to club football bosses came as Western Australian premier Mark McGowan made it clear on Wednesday that he was in no rush to open up the state’s borders, which meant West Coast and Fremantle would potentially need to spend time in the eastern states in hubs in order to play games.
But the AFL’s view is that, with the exception of WA, hubs will not be necessary and the clubs and competition will rely instead on these rigorous rules around testing for the virus, such as players going home and transporting themselves alone in cars.
The expectation is that players will be tested before games and at least once during the week, either at the club or another venue such as Marvel Stadium.
In granting an exemption on Saturday morning to allow AFL clubs to cross their borders, the Queensland government made it clear to both the AFL and the NRL that any slip-ups by players in adhering to social-distancing measures would put such approval in jeopardy.
West Coast CEO Trevor Nisbett was not available for comment but on Saturday he told ABC Grandstand they would deal with whatever cards were dealt as they understood health was the primary concern.
“We’ll have to adapt. Fortunately we have a pretty mature football team at the moment so I think our squad will adapt to whatever is put before us,” Nisbett said.
Meanwhile there is also a chance the VFL and NAB League could be combined into one competition for the remainder of 2020 if community and state league football resumes.
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.