Only in times of war has the footy world been as shaken; but the plague of coronavirus has caused what no conflict has before – the cancellation of the remainder of a top flight season.
While we all remain wistful about what might have been, the future prospects of the league – from the minutiae of how to go about off-season training without coaching staff, state league games or club facilities under pandemic restrictions in place for months, all the way up to the viability of the 2021 season in its current form – remain under a dark cloud of uncertainty.
The decision to call time on 2020 and leave the season without a premier crowned was not taken lightly, even though the AFL’s options were extremely curtailed by forces beyond their control. As such, we lack a definitive final ladder for the year, a prospect already somewhat compromised by the earlier decision to lop off the two remaining home and away games. Of course decisions on how to shape conferences and their fixtures rely greatly upon the relative strength of the clubs performances in the preceding seasons – so too the awarding of draft picks.
Fortunately, there are no new clubs set to enter the AFLW in 2021 to add further difficulty to the draft formula. That’s about the only positive... Clubs will be faced with tricky questions such as: how to pick draftees who have missed out on playing in the SANFLW or NAB League? The reliability of scouting if eighty percent of their staff are out of a job for much of the year? Will they be able to select women or girls from overseas and interstate with the same confidence as before?
Will the fixture itself be majorly a product of the on-field results this season or warped by the reality of the world in the time of coronavirus? As per their recently agreed to CBA, the 14 clubs of the AFLW were set to play a total of 12 weeks of footy next year; the most ever. With suggestions ranging from extras to rectify the shortfall of 2020 to a dramatic reduction in games, match payments and contract lengths, it’s impossible to get a read on the situation beyond “anything could happen.”
Added into the mix are a glut of players facing the axe from their “real” jobs outside of footy, real concerns over television broadcast revenue and at-risk player morale and general mental and physical well-being. It doesn’t make for easy reading – nor easy writing – but then again, it’s never come easy to women’s footy. We’ll all ride the bumps together; the future is unwritten.
"Reflecting on season 2020, and there is so much to be proud of..." - a message from Head of Women's Football, Nicole Livingstone. pic.twitter.com/S9BKxv9oiT— AFL Women's (@aflwomens) March 24, 2020