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The AFL has told clubs it intends to forge on with training and playing through 2022 despite it being inevitable that players and key football staff will be diagnosed with COVID-19 throughout the season.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan indicated at this week’s CEO meeting that the approach of the league and clubs would be that everyone would need to learn to live with COVID-19, managing inevitable disruptions so the show can forge on.
AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan.Credit:Getty Images
Although the league is working on updated protocols around COVID-19, AFL sources said it was unlikely they would be specific in terms of what is fair or unfair when it comes to availability of players and staff.
They were more likely to adopt the approach of recent years that clubs would be expected to play as long as they could field a team, with unavailability due to a COVID-19 diagnosis considered similar to other injuries or illnesses.
If a club was particularly hard hit in either the AFL or AFLW season, or if issues relating to crossing borders arose due to different government policies, the league and clubs would deal with them on a case-by-case basis.
Victorian government rules introduced last week have given the AFL confidence they can manage isolated cases within clubs, with players and football-related staff having to undergo a rapid antigen test before entering the club and a PCR test once a week.
With vaccination rates reaching 90 per cent, a person who tests positive to COVID-19 in Victoria has to isolate for 10 days, and those they live with must isolate for seven days. Close contacts will only need to isolate until they test negative for COVID-19, reducing the impact on clubs.
People at clubs are also expected to continue to follow hygiene protocols and clubs anticipate their players and staff will be expected to make sensible decisions about where they spend time when the season is under way, depending on the COVID-19 situation in their state.
Carlton CEO Brian Cook became the latest club official to be diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday. The veteran administrator returned a positive result after undergoing the PCR test all players and football-related staff take weekly.
He joined Essendon CEO Xavier Campbell, Tigers pair Dion Prestia and Noah Balta and young Hawk Finn Maginness as confirmed COVID-19 cases, with members of AFLW programs at several clubs also testing positive.
One senior club official said last week a COVID-19 diagnosis will be at least as common as hamstring injury when it comes to selection, with clubs rolling on as best they can and key players likely to miss from time to time.
A match between the Giants and Sydney continued in round 18 last year despite the last-minute withdrawals of key players from both teams, while clubs had coaches coaching from afar at various points in the season.
The AFL has made it mandatory for all their players and football department staff in the AFL and AFLW program to be fully vaccinated to participate in the competition. Carlton’s Liam Jones retired and Adelaide’s Deni Varnhagen has been placed on the inactive list.
St Kilda’s Georgia Patrikios has not been at the Saints since the vaccination policy was introduced with the 20-year-old admitting during the week she was weighing whether to take the vaccine.
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